Puff the Magic Dragon Offended by ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ Song, President-elect Not So Much

Dec 29, 2008 11:55am

A lot of chatter in the media and political worlds these days about RNC chair candidate Chip Saltsman sending around a "comedy" CD to fellow party officials featuring the song "Barack the Magic Negro." (Alternet has posted the song HERE.)

The outgoing chair of the RNC, Mike Duncan, said he’s “shocked and appalled” by the lyrics, adding: "The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party." The song, Duncan said, "clearly does not move us in the right direction."

Moreover, former House Speaker New Gingrich told the New York Times, “This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it."

This all started in March 2007, liberal writer David Ehrenstein penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times called "Obama the Magic Negro."

The point of the op-ed was to dissect the fabled "Magic Negro" in postmodern folk culture — a person "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. As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic — embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle. And that’s not to mention a certain basketball player whose very nickname is ‘Magic.’"

Soon afterward, conservative satirist Paul Shanklin wrote a parody which ran on Rush Limbaugh’s show featuring an Al Sharpton impersonator singing, among other lyrics:

"Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C./ The L.A. Times they called him that/ ’cause he’s not authentic like me…

"Yeah the guy from the L.A. paper/ said he made guilty whites feel good/ they’ll vote for him and not for me/ ’cause he’s not from the hood…"

And so on. The song is one of 41 featured on Shanklin’s latest CD, entitled, "We Hate the USA." (Other songs include "Wright Place, Wrong Pastor" and "The Stay-Spanglish Banner.")

Responding to the controversy of his sending out the album, Saltsman recently issued a statement saying, "Liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn’t utter a word about David Ehrenstein’s irresponsible column in the Los Angeles Times last March. But now, of course, they’re shocked and appalled by its parody on ‘The Rush Limbaugh Show.’ I firmly believe that we must welcome all Americans into our party and that the road to Republican resurgence begins with unity, not division. But I know that our party leaders should stand up against the media’s double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal."

Interestingly, on May 2, 2007, in an interview with Paul W. Smith of WJR Radio in Detroit, Obama was asked about the song and he didn’t seem too concerned about it.

"I have to do this because Rush is on our radio station," Smith said. "We’re going to see him tomorrow. You’ve heard the parody song ‘Barack the "Magic Negro?’"

"You know, I have not heard it but I’ve heard of it," Obama said. "I confess that I don’t listen to Rush on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’m not one of these people who, who takes myself so seriously that I get offended by — by every — every comment made about me. You know, the — you know, what Rush does is entertainment, and although it’s probably not something that I listen to much, I don’t — "

"But you said not every day, so you do listen a little then, and why wouldn’t you?" Smith interrupted.

"I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind folks poking fun at me," Obama said. "That’s part of the job."

Others mind, of course, including the co-writer of the original "Puff the Magic Dragon" song, Peter Yarrow, who writes in today’s Huffington Post:

"I and my co-writer of ‘Puff,’ Lenny Lipton, have been eagerly awaiting an end to the mean-spiritedness, outright disrespect and bigotry that was commonplace prior to this last presidential election. What might have been wearily accepted as ‘the way it was’ in the campaign, is now unacceptable. Obama is not a candidate. He is the President-Elect, and this song insults the office of the Presidency, the people who voted for him, as well as those who did not — and taking a children’s song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism.

"It is almost unimaginable to me that Chip Saltzman (sic) who sent the CD, would seriously be considered for the top post of the Republican National Committee," Yarrow concludes. "Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree."

– jpt

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