White America’s idealized, less-than-real black man

“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.’

“Poitier really poured on the ‘magic’ in ‘Lilies of the Field’ (for which he won a best actor Oscar) and ‘To Sir, With Love’ (which, along with ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,’ made him a No. 1 box-office attraction). In these films, Poitier triumphs through yeoman service to his white benefactors. ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is particularly striking in this regard, as it posits miscegenation without evoking sex. (Talk about magic!)

“The same can’t quite be said of Freeman in ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ ‘Seven’ and the seemingly endless series of films in which he plays ersatz paterfamilias to a white woman bedeviled by a serial killer. But at least he survives, unlike Crothers in ‘The Shining,’ in which psychic premonitions inspire him to rescue a white family he barely knows and get killed for his trouble. This heart-tug trope is parodied in Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant.’ The film’s sole black student at a Columbine-like high school arrives in the midst of a slaughter, helps a girl escape and is immediately gunned down. See what helping the white man gets you?”
Obama the ‘Magic Negro’, The Illinois senator lends himself to white America’s idealized, less-than-real black man, by David Ehrenstein, LA Times, March 19, 2007

I dunno, David, if Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, or Don Cheadle was running for President, I’d probably vote for them. Unless they were running against Jessica Lang, Sissy Spacek, or Sigourney Weaver or a Democrat with years of real political experience, like, Barbara Boxer or Al Gore.

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