A second candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee is now embroiled in a controversy having to do with race. As discussed here, Katon Dawson belonged for years to a country club that did not admit African-Americans. Now we learn that Chip Saltsman sent RNC members a CD by parody artist Paul Shanklin that included the song “Barack the Magic Negro.”
The song’s title came from an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by David Ehrenstein. Saltsman is therefore arguing that the criticism of him represents a double standard, inasumuch as Ehrenstein’s piece did not produce a controversy.
Ehrenstein’s piece was not scandalous. As he explained in the op-ed:
The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. “He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist,” reads the description on Wikipedia. . .
He’s there to assuage white “guilt” (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.
Shanklin’s parody was not scandalous either. His concept of “the magic Negro,” presented in the context of a mock rant against Obama by the decidely non-magical Al Sharpton, was basically the same as Ehrenstein’s. By ciriculating this recording, Shanklin was not displaying racism.
But Ehrenstein, Shanklin, and Rush Limbaugh (who played the recording on his show) aren’t running for RNC head. So we are left with the question of whether it’s a good idea for Republicans to be led by someone tone-deaf enough to circulate a recording called “Barack the Magic Negro.”
To me, the self-evident answer is “no.” Media double standards (if that’s what we’re witnessing here) are a reality the next RNC head (indeed, the next dozen) will have to deal with. Republicans need a chairman with the maturity and judgment to avoid subjecting himself, and by extension our party, to easy shots by our enemies. The RNC chair we need would have responded to Shanklin’s parody with, at most, a private chuckle.
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