"I don't mind folks poking fun at me."
That's how presidential candidate Barack Obama responded when Paul W. Smith with Detroit's WJR Radio asked him about the Rush Limbaugh's parody song "Barack the Magic Negro".
The song refers to on op-ed piece written by African-American writer David Ehrenstein in the Los Angeles Times. Ehrentstein wondered if the "Illinois senator lends himself to white America's idealized, less-than-real black man?":
"But it's clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination -- the "Magic Negro.
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.
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.""
Conservative impressionist Paul Shanklin sings the song impersonating Al Sharpton (poorly, I might add) to the tune of the Peter, Paul, and Mary song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" here.
Here is the exchange between Smith and Obama:
"You know, I have not heard it but I've heard of it. 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."
Obama didn't take Limbaugh's bait. Good for him. Obama understands that the continuing name calling from the right further confirms his skyrocketing viability as the Democratic nominee.
Obama also understands that talking about race is a scary thing in America. Especially for a politician. Race is a third rail issue that can end a career. Obama knows that race is a huge elephant in his room and both the Obama haters and the Obamaniacs are watching his every word on all things racial. Obama also understands that he doesn't need to care what Limbaugh's listeners think. They aren't voting for him.
So, instead of a even criticizing Limbaugh, Obama deftly swats off the controversy with humor, which shows leadership. Obama knows to win that it's not worth making Rush's molehill more of a mountain. Like the Rutgers's ladies, Obama is a class act.
Limbaugh, who has a history of saying racially offensive things about Obama like calling him a "Halfrican American" and the "Donovan McNabb of the Senate" agrees that Obama is a class act:
"This is a classy way to deal with it," said Limbaugh. "This is the way he should have dealt with it if anyone asked. It's the first time he's probably been asked about it, but this is the way for these guys to deal with it. Blow it off. Laugh it off. No big deal."
When I first read about Limbaugh's "Halfrican American" slur, I was reminded of the slurs lobbed at President Abraham Lincoln. His opponents tried to smear him by calling him "Abraham Africanis" and implying that a vote for Lincoln was a vote for miscegenation:
Political junkies would be very interested in the campaign literature used by the Democrats against Lincoln in 1864. "It was a terrible campaign, a racist campaign," says Greenberg. Documents distributed by the northern Union Democrats included a pamphlet entitled "Abraham Africanis" and another which introduced miscegenation to the language.
"Miscegenation was a word that was coined in 1864 for the election to describe race mixing," says Greenberg. "The accusation was that if you reelect Lincoln, you're going to have miscegenation. This phrase goes on to be the coin of the realm, as far as racist attacks, are concerned."
Lincoln was also known for his self-deprecating sense of humor. I wonder if he responded to these slurs with humor, Obama style? Lincoln and Obama are class acts. Limbaugh, not so much.