Barack the Magic Negro Song, the GOP, and African-Americans

by Latoya Peterson

From the Washington Post:


Republicans who are vying to lead the national party offered a mix of reactions yesterday to the decision by one candidate for the job to mail out a music CD including the song “Barack the Magic Negro.”

Chip Saltsman defended his actions, telling the Hill newspaper that the song — and others on the CD, which was mailed to party members — was nothing more than a lighthearted parody. But his rivals in the contest to chair the Republican National Committee said it carried an inaccurate message about what the GOP stands for.

My favorite quote:

And former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell defended Saltsman and attacked the media.

“Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African American elected president,” Blackwell, who is black, said in a statement.

“I don’t think any of the concerns that have been expressed in the media about any of the other candidates for RNC chairman should disqualify them,” he said. “When looked at in the proper context, these concerns are minimal. All of my competitors for this leadership post are fine people.”

Whenever I read about incidents like this (and there have been many throughout the primaries, the election, and will continue beyond the inauguration), my mind keeps straying back to Keli Goff’s book Party Crashing: How the Hip Hop Generation Declared Political Independence.

I voted for Barack Obama in the general election. (This should be no secret to regular readers of this blog.) But I still identify as a political independent.

And according to Goff, I’m not alone:

According to the 2001 study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, approximately 30% of black Americans ages eighteen to thirty-five identify themselves as political independents. It is tempting to dismiss such provocative findings as a fluke, so in 2007, in conjunction with the Political Research Center of Suffolk University, I conducted a follow up study of four hundred randomly selected black Americans ages eighteen to forty five (the age range of respondents was expanded to incorporate the responses of those who would have been thirty-five at the time of the initial Joint Center Study). Our findings confirmed that a definite shift has occurred in how younger black Americans are defining themselves politically. More significantly, more than a third of younger black Americans no longer feel the need to conform to traditional party labeling.

(Goff, pages 4-5)

So here is what drives me insane about this whole situation.

Are we seriously saying that all these well-paid political strategists can’t see the writing on the wall? Thirty percent of young black voters identify as independent and in each general election, the Republicans still can’t pull more than 10% of the black vote?

Goff dedicates a chapter to the GOP in her book, titled “Can the Party of Lincoln become the Party of 50 Cent?” The section of the book goes into detail about GOP strategies for outreach to the black community – and the subsequent setbacks it suffered due to the racism within the higher ranks of the Grand Ol’ Party.

Goff also cites Ken Mehlman, former chair of the Republican National Committee, who made diversifying the Republican Party a key aspect of his work with the GOP. In the book, Mehlman explains that his upbringing influenced his embrace of diversity, pointing out that “historically, the Jewish and the black communities have worked together on a variety of issues.” Staunchly against bigotry, Melhman stood before the NAACP in 2005, famously stating:

“Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit from racial polarization. I am here as Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”

Unfortunately, that sentiment was not shared by many in his party.

The rest of Goff’s chapter is peppered with political gaffes made by various high profile Republicans that helped to drive away black voters. Starting with Richard Nixon (who earned 32% of the black vote when he ran against JFK in 1960), the Republicans have relied on divisive campaigning based on race (soon to be known as the Southern Strategy).

Goff counts off the various other tactics employed by the GOP: the use of a Willie Horton based, racially inflammatory ad during the Dukakis race, the “Hands” ad run in 1990 by Jesse Helms, G.W. Bush’s speech at Bob Jones University (which at the time had a ban on interracial dating), the Bush administration’s challenge of the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions procedures (with both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell voicing dissent), Trent Lott’s 2002 comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday, former G.H.W. Bush appointee William Bennett’s comment in 2005 that “you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down*,” and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

And of course, we all saw how race baiting in the 2008 election went down.

Much discussion in political spheres has been on how the GOP can move forward and become a party that can attract a diverse coalition of voters.

However, the GOP doesn’t actually have to do much to attract minority voters. Support good candidates with a solid platform with something to say. Bring candidates to debates that actually add something to the national conversation. Redefine your idea of “real America.”

And it would also help if you took the “racists welcome” sign off your front door.

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*The full quote is:

If you wanted to reduce crime, you could – if that was your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in the country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

If you follow the Wikipedia link in the text, you see the full context of Bennett’s remarks, as they stemmed from a Freakonomics theory that proposed the legalization of abortion led to the declines in crime. But the rub is that the Freakonomics study did not focus on race. They focused on “teenagers, unmarried women, and the economically disadvantaged” in the press surrounding their study and in the analysis. Race is discussed on page twelve of the study as another marginal factor and some statistics are provided about crimes committed by blacks versus crimes committed by whites, correlated with the number of abortions for each racial group. The other 41 pages of the study mainly touch on class, crime rates, and break downs by region.

So, the question here is why did Bennett equate crime with black? Or abortion with black, depending on your interpretation of his comments?