The Myth (and Missteps) With the Magic (Conservative) Negro

Gov. Jerry Brown displays a playing card with his dog, Sutter, on it as he gives the annual State of the State speech before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. Brown delivered a dual message in his annual address to the Legislature, that a California resurgence is well underway but is threatened by economic and environmental uncertainties. On the backside of the playing card is a chart showing how high deficits follow balanced budgets, and warned that even though there is a budget surplus, lawmakers should not overspend.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

 

The recent article by Kira Davis was eloquent. It was deep, brave, and needed. It made people think: there is a way to call out racism without calling for the “race card” – mythically used or validly addressed.

It got me thinking as well.

America’s Original Sin is more than just a “race card being played” by the Rev. Jacksons, Sharptons, and Barbers of the nation, with many believing that it is the “Black ace in the hole” in times of trouble. Sadly, too many Americans are willing to play another “card” when the deck is stacked against us during racial tensions:

A joker. A “magic Negro”. One that rather uniquely speaks “our truth”, “our feelings” and “why we’re right” – even if it is only an incomplete truth, inappropriateness, or pure subjectivity that is being upheld.

It’s a short quote from a speech, a public figure with an impressive-sounding title, one position or expression, or someone with a preferred background. It becomes that “one true voice” that is comfortable, convenient, and culpable within a dynamic that misuses the tool of debate as a conduit to sidestep facts, figures, and events that provide a fuller perspective on our society.

When we use this joker, it brings false hope of playing a trump card. It actually limits us, as it never helps us win a better America with the cards we were dealt by the sins of our forefathers – actions we did not commit but consequences we must honorably address.

From the conservative side, this tactic never helps conservatives win a significant portion of Black votes. It never helps conservatives win support on policy fronts that help urban constituents, despite having policies that overwhelmingly poll well with these Americans. It never helps conservatives cast aside the notion that all White conservatives are racists (i.e., they’re not), despite the Jameses, Metzlers, Johnsons, Singletons, Scotts, and Joneses of the nation (among many others) being active, thoughtful, and visible for our principles while earning cache within Black communities. From the liberal side, this “Magic Negro” tactic never helps African-Americans win more elections – including winnable races where other candidates do not share that same pedestal status. It never helps to remove controversial emotions from race relations, as emotions become tense and disrespectful the moment “The One” adopts an agenda aside from the prescribed course. It never helps that, despite the “compliments” about one’s dialect or “cleanness” as a candidate, the sentiment is never extended to other Blacks, particularly in cities where liberals have dominated elected office for years on end. From a national perspective, it constantly keeps the United States roughly one major racial incident from civic unrest and upheaval, a reality we have seen play out for decades on end from the rise of the KKK and the Black Wall Street Massacre to Rodney King in 1992 and the events of today. Further, it keeps America vulnerable to military attack, domestic terrorism, and civic decay as we fail to uplift each other as Americans while the world watches.

Free market thinkers must believe in the power of the marketplace of ideas, rejecting the notion that one “Magic Negro” – one model of thought or tone – should be the sole beacon for healing the cancer of racism within us. Diversity matters. Every founding father did not agree on every issue in the meeting rooms in Philadelphia. They all knew what we have forgotten: that any great gathering (e.g., a team, an organization, or a country) must have a robust set of thought leaders and active participants that push for the best of the collective through their diverse perspectives and talents.  The intellectually-honest, robust, and fiery-yet-respectful discussions must occur freely throughout our nation at all levels. We must embrace the assurance that we understand, trust, and encourage the best of our democracy to deal with one of the most-enduring stains of our republic. Society is only stable through sound policies, and sound policies only come from fair, honest, and probing debates on ideas – both within our circles of congeniality as well as within the camps of those that see things differently.

The problem with the “Magic Negro” – and notably, the unproductive obsession with the conservative Magic Negro ­– is that with the usage of this joker card, we limit our effectiveness and subsequent successes to a finite moment, a singular quote, one individual opinion or experience, or a misconstrued analysis. We reject uplifting debate for an intoxicating comfort. In a nation that takes “one man, one vote” to create the will of the people serving millions, we are too willing to resolve a complex issue such as race in America with merely one perspective, one moment, and one set of questions and answers. We take Dr. King’s “Dream” speech, remembering the dream yet forgetting his take on police brutality in the same document. We extol the tenets of the First Amendment as constitutional conservatives yet ignore the violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth that people of color have endured for decades. We have allowed ourselves to believe that basic freedoms are a valid substitute for the God-given equality that our founding document defends, excusing us to blame folks for living on the wrong side of historical tracks despite being situated there before all of us were born. We sabotage some best efforts trying to shoehorn complexities into our comfort zones.  We confound the false notion of color-blindness with the true attainment of equality within all aspects of diversity.

In actuality, the “Magic Negro” – and especially the Magic Conservative Negro – is a placebo, not a remedy. This joker allows many to smile without realizing how much they are in on the joke: that America, despite her many positive contributions to the world and advancements in society, has yet to fully become the land of the free for all Americans.

Anyone and anything, when misapplied, can play this role of joker. It happens on both sides of the aisle. However, some readily and insidiously play the role more than others, from she-who-must-not-be-named and her predecessor to those who hearken back to tropes that have existed for decades and those who grift through egregiousness. And this joker – through not being brave or simply not being concerned – puts self over service, party over people, and the pangs of hedonism over the calls of history.

Thus, we must be careful and stop playing with these jokers, especially on issues of race. There is cogency and sustainability within our diversity, especially as conservatives. We have already pushed all our chips in and, thus, there is so much to lose if we get this wrong by continuing to just trump out jokers. So many Americans of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds want to see domestic tranquility for our Union. And yet, some – through pursuit of fame, fortune, or power – have no problem watching the world burn in exchange for what they want, even if that means we collectively never get what we need.