Stop the “Magic Negro” Ride—I Want to Get Off (Part I): Crouch and the Black Nationalist

The first few weeks of speculations about “what the black president-elect means for black America” was fine in the euphoria of the election. But after spending a little over a month reading articles and essays—mostly by black conservatives or striving black Gen Xers— on the topic, I have to officially step off the elation of November 4th and start questioning the faith and power pundits and writers are putting into Barack’s win. (As much as black people argue we are not a monolith, we sound like we’re backsliding with these sweeping reactions we expect to occur within black America.)

For this part, I have to start with Stanley Crouch’s essay “The End of Bad Boy Thinking” for The Daily Beast, where he argues that an Obama win dispels the words, philosophy and work of black nationalist leaders/thinkers of the last 50 years. I was particularly drawn to his word on how Barack’s win redeems Martin Luther King against attacks by Malcolm X and his ilk. On them, Crouch writes, “Living or dead it is now time that they be seen for the fools, frauds, defeatist demagogues, and saber-rattling charlatans that they have always been. Such people had accused King of being hopelessly optimistic about an America that would never accept more than certain kinds of black "tokens." But, in the context of the presidential election (as it was during the hey days of civil rights), that is still exactly the case when it comes to power and politics for black people. Black or white, America understood Obama had to fit the profile (non-threatening, unencumbered by history and racial politics, and—let’s be honest—yellow) to get as far as he did. Granted, America has come a long way with this election, but the rules of getting the figurative keys to the executive suite have not changed: the clean, upstanding negro gets them and the angry, downtrodden negro, when denied, has to take them. And while Barack ran one of the best races in presidential history (sidestepping racial bombs with the grace of OJ in his prime) he had to come in the token package. Besides, had the economy not been in the toilet would we be sitting here euphoric over a black prez. I think not, which puts some validity into the nationalist rhetoric that’s been spewed and “hustled” over the last half century. Stay tuned for Part II.