Wednesday, June 18, 2008


There's been an interesting thread over at Dykes To Watch Out For regarding assimilation (especially in response to the lesbian/gay marriage shift this week), wimmin's bookstores, and continued consideration of the "Magical Negro" cultural expression as evidenced in white response to the current Presidential campaign.

One reader (Josiah, a Maoist Orange Cake diva), referenced the David Ehrenstein column in the Los Angeles Times in March of 2007, Obama the Magic Negro. Alison Bechdel also drew our attention to Mark Morford's column in SFGate on June 6, Is Obama an enlightened being? (he decides Obama is a "Lightworker" and his essay is a textbook example of Magical Negro thinking).

I wrote a long comment on this thread and have decided to reproduce it here:

'I think Obama and his campaign strategists are very aware of how much white America depends on tokenizing minorities and imbuing them with “special powers” in order to internally overcome their own racist conditioning. It’s a shortcut through the real work of undoing conditioning, in the same way that women are put on pedestals or constantly portrayed as “sexually liberated” in order to sidestep the need to alter male conditioning which forces boys to see females primarily as sex/nurture objects.

'I don’t believe the majority of Obama’s supporters are riding the Magical Negro train. And while he’s aware of it playing a role, he’s not discouraging it, either, because a significant aspect of his success as the “first black candidate” depends on him being non-typical black. He is charismatic but, if you didn’t see his face, you would not recognize his voice or speaking style as American black. He is beautiful but clearly mixed race and more African than American black. These help him make end-runs around the racism that actually dominates our culture.

'Those who view him as redemption for America’s racism, who are subconsciously assigning him the Magical Negro role, are fairly easy to spot. They fawn on him — adulation is our culture’s way of finding/reinforcing our level in the power hierarchy, and has no relationship to reality, especially to the person being fawned over. (Right, Alison?) They are swept away by his speaking and presence, instead of simply being impressed or, god forbid, noticing his mistakes. They believe he has mystical leadership attributes — mystical because when you ask them for specifics, they fall back on “But just LISTEN to him!” (He’s a junior senator who has big gaps in his experience, folks.) The adulation slops over to his wife and children, again not grounded in firm reality. They take any criticism of him as a personal attack, assume it comes from racism (a little projection going on there), and simply cannot hear it without vicious reprisal. And — they hate Hillary, because she dared to present an alternative. Because they are not dealing with their own buried racism (the REAL deal, not the groovy I-can-vote-for-a-black-guy version), they have also not dealt with their sexism (big surprise) and their method/rhetoric used to assault Hillary reveals this in glaring fashion.

'These, in other words, are the Obamabots. They will not get him elected and, in fact, have hurt his cause. The rest of us who intend to vote for him are sick of their adolescent antics and ready for increasing substance in this campaign.

'I don’t expect Obama to make serious inroads in our national racism. I don’t think that is his intent, for one thing. He will have a huge impact on the self-perception of blacks, of course, especially children, and that’s extremely important. I’m counting on him to do what he HAS stated as his intent: To extricate us from a megalomaniacal war; to restore Constitutional balance to our government; to address health care reform (though his plan will not solve it); and to slow, if not stop, our slide into becoming a masculinity-worshiping police state.

'I also have my fingers crossed that when it comes time to appoint the next Supreme Court justice, his advisers will once again keep him from making the error he almost made in supporting John Roberts. The make-up of SCOTUS will affect our liberty for decades to come.

'He will be attacked constantly by the Right, and if the November election does not also bring into office a significant number of Congressional Democrats with eggs of steel, he will be hobbled from making substantial legislative change. Once he falls from the pedestal (which is the fate of all charismatic politicians), the Obamabots will be the first to turn on him.

'I say all this because I watched progressives in 1992 (not radicals, but those left of center) cream in their drawers about Bill Clinton, his gift for speech-making, his good looks, his admirable family, his constant invocation of hope. I was at a neighborhood party the night he received the nomination and people were sobbing because he was going to lead us to the Promised Land. I looked around me in disbelief then, too. He was at best a moderate — and, by all concrete standards, he was more liberal than Obama (despite the right-wing smears, Obama is less liberal than most of Congress). He was an enormously popular President and did a great deal of national good. But all we hear now is the right-wing stereotype of Bill Clinton.

'His fall from grace resulted in impeachment. Obama’s fall will be more severe, because racism will come to the surface and punish him for not just failure, but failing while black.

'The road to undoing racism will follow other paths. It’s simply more complicated than that to undo millenia of lies reinforced by every single institution we have.'

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