RUSH: NPR. This is WNYC Radio, the Brian Lehrer show, speaking with the author James Hannaham about his new book, Delicious Foods. Your host came up in this discussion. The host of the program says to the author James Hannaham about his new book Delicious Foods, “You told NPR that one of your aims in this book was to give the so-called ‘magical negro,’ quote-unquote a back story. Explain for people who don’t know the term what ‘magical negro’ is and how Eddie, your character, fits that mold.”
HANNAHAM: The magical negro is like the character in a story that’s mostly about the journey of a white person who is the catharsis — excuse me — provides their catharsis, essentially, and is like the one who, you know, teaches them how to dance, for example. And — you know, it’s a trope that’s all over the place. You find it in mainstream films, like from The Green Mile.
LEHRER: Didn’t it come up even, was it Rush Limbaugh or somebody during the first Obama campaign, accusing white people who wanted to vote for Obama of using him as their magical Negro?
HANNAHAM: Oh, my God. So much crap has been projected onto Obama, it’s, like, ridiculous.
RUSH: Well, wait a minute. Before we start ladling out the crap here, Mr. Hannaham, you say that the ‘Magic Negro’ is a character about the journey of a white person who is the catharsis — no, no. The ‘Magic Negro’ is a black person. You know how I learned this? I had never heard of the term, ‘Magic Negro,’ until it appeared in a column in the Los Angeles Times in 2008. It was written by a black guy, I forget his name, I can’t off the top of my head remember his name. But he wrote a piece called “Barack the ‘Magic Negro,'” and I had never heard the term, and he went on to explain what “Barack the ‘Magic Negro'” was and meant.
So it gave rise to one of our all-time biggest hits in our parody music series, “Barack the ‘Magic Negro,'” after I learned what it was from reading about it in a column written by a black guy in the Los Angeles Times. Here’s “Barack the ‘Magic Negro'” sung by white comedian Paul Shanklin.
(playing of song)
RUSH: From the Grooveyard of Forgotten Favorites, it’s actually 2007, that would be eight years ago for “Barack the ‘Magic Negro.'” The column in the LA Times inspiring that song written by David Ehrenstein, and just a little bit of the backstory, ’cause I’m sure there’s some people doing flip-flop conniption fits right now hearing this for the first time.
It was the campaign of 2008 and Al Sharpton was miffed because the media was all-in for Barack Obama. Joe Biden had said (paraphrasing), “Finally we have a clean, articulate black guy on our side,” and this offended Al Sharpton ’cause he takes showers every day, thought he was clean. He was insulted. He was not happy. They were not buds. Sharpton and Obama did have some distance between them back in those days during the campaign. Mrs. Clinton was in that mix as well.
And then this column came along, and basically the point of the column was that Obama’s not authentically black, that he’s the kind of black guy that white people feel comfortable around, the kind of black guy that doesn’t scare white people. I didn’t say any of this. All of this was in an LA Times column, written by a black guy. So I read this, it was all news to me. I’d never heard the term ‘Magic Negro,’ I didn’t know what it was. My full-fledged education on it came from Ehrenstein.
So we put together the parody song, and it didn’t take long, David Ehrenstein forgot he wrote the column and thought I created everything. He’s running around on TV criticizing me even though he was the source authority for all of it. That’s why we had Al Sharpton sing the song, ’cause he was miffed. There was a huge rift.
People have forgotten this, and I don’t think many people may have even really known it at the time, but Sharpton — (interruption) Yeah, the Reverend Jackson was running around talking about very, very mean things that he wanted to do to Obama’s manhood. He said it on Fox.
He actually didn’t say it. You know what happened? A mic was live, a camera was live during a commercial break and Fox News said, “Look, you didn’t say it on the air so we’re not gonna air it.” It leaked out. It never really actually aired, but it ended up being seen ’cause somebody there leaked it out of there. There I was a lot of anger because all these conversations about Obama not being down for the struggle, Obama wasn’t authentic, he didn’t have slave blood.
I wasn’t saying any of this. This was all being said by others in the Democrat Party. So we made our parody tune and it didn’t take long before I owned it, when all I was doing was parodying it. Anyway, that’s the backstory.