The Magical Negro Falls to Earth

The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Touré writes at Time that victory for Obama in 2012 would signify more racial progress than it did in 2008.

In 2008, Obama was Morpheus and America was Neo, a nation of great potential that had lost its mojo and did not understand reality. Obama offered America the red pill — the chance to vote for him — and we swallowed it. In The Matrix, the red pill took effect immediately, and it wasn't long before Neo revealed himself to be the One — the Jesus-like figure Morpheus had thought he was. In the real world, change happens much more slowly. When Obama took office, it felt as if the sky were falling and we were close to a depression. We avoided that fate. But it has been a rough few years marked by problems (not all of his making) that include a historic recession, Washington gridlock, the passage of controversial health care legislation, the failure to close the Guantánamo prison, the Middle East explosion and the rhetorical blunder of "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," by which the great orator handed the GOP a gift it could mangle into a slogan. After all that, it's impossible to view Obama as a superhuman magical-Negro figure anymore …

While some may think it complimentary to be considered "magical," it is infantilizing and offensive because it suggests black excellence is so shocking it can only come from a source that is supernatural. To accept a black leader who is extraordinary yet so human that he cannot be magical is an entirely different prospect than electing a black superhero. Anyone would vote for a superhero who lived up to my mom's standard of having to be twice as good. But for it to embrace a nonmagical black person who cannot promise anything but hope, intelligence, sweat and experience, now that comes closer to equality. Equality is freedom from having to be twice as good to get ahead.


Read Touré's entire piece at Time.

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