Weeks after radio personality Rush Limbaugh began airing a parody song, "Barack, the Magic Negro," about Sen. Barack Obama's popularity with...
WASHINGTON — Weeks after radio personality Rush Limbaugh began airing a parody song, “Barack, the Magic Negro,” about Sen. Barack Obama’s popularity with many white voters, it is drawing fire from critics who say it is racist.
The audio clip features a comedian imitating the singing voice of the Rev. Al Sharpton, bemoaning Obama’s popularity with whites who will, the lyrics predict, “vote for him and not for me ’cause he’s not from da hood.”
Obama’s campaign called the song “dumb,” although a spokesman said the campaign doesn’t think anyone is taking the song seriously.
Limbaugh’s critics said the song goes too far, particularly because the piece is spreading on the Internet at a time Obama faces heightened security concerns fueled in part by threats directed at him.
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“We take these things seriously because there’s a consistent pattern of them making their way into the mainstream media and then the mainstream consciousness,” said Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Media Matters, a nonprofit media-watchdog group that has been monitoring the broadcasts. “It’s important to shoot these things down.”
Limbaugh’s repeated playing of the song strikes some as especially surprising, coming so close after the firing of radio host Don Imus.
Imus referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team in racist and sexist terms on the air, triggering a public furor that resulted in his dismissal.
Obama, meanwhile, has been the subject of explicit, angry comments not only in e-mails and letters but in Web postings. Samples of those writings were reviewed by members of Congress last week when they recommended that Obama, D-Ill, be given protection by a U.S. Secret Service detail.
The increased security comes as friends of Obama have expressed concerns about his safety on the presidential-campaign trail, partly because of the size of the crowds he is drawing and because many of the periodic threats against him carry racial overtones.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he brought his concerns about Obama’s safety to Senate leaders, who agreed with Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security officials that the presidential hopeful needed a special security detail.
“Unfortunately, many of the things that concerned me had a lot to do with race,” Durbin said. “I wish we lived in a country where that is not a problem, but it still is. And the fact that Barack Obama is such a highly visible African-American candidate, I think, increases his vulnerability.”
So virulent have been some of the postings on Web sites that last week CBSNews.com told its staff not to enable comments on stories about Obama because he was drawing an overwhelming number of racist remarks.
As for Limbaugh and the controversial song, it started in March soon after the Los Angeles Times published a provocative column by a black writer calling Obama the “Magic Negro.” The article said Obama fits the prototype of the black cinematic figure who arises to “assuage white guilt over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history.”
Columnist David Ehrenstein suggested Obama is running in the public imagination for the office of “Magic Negro,” a kind of benign African-American figure who is there to help and for whom even mild criticisms are waved away “magically.”
The term “Magic Negro” in cinematic circles dates to the 1950s.
Not long after that column was published, Limbaugh began to air “Barack, the Magic Negro,” sung to the tune of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
Callers to Sharpton’s radio show recently expressed their concern over Limbaugh’s parody and urged Sharpton to get involved.
Sharpton said he would not make an issue out of the comments without discussing it with Obama first.
Efforts to reach Limbaugh and Sharpton on Friday were unsuccessful.
Aides to Obama said they were not bothered by the parody, a slide-show version of which is available at YouTube.com.
“It’s not the first dumb thing said during the course of this campaign and it likely won’t be the last,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said. “But, frankly, I don’t think anyone takes this too seriously.”
Chicago Tribune reporters Dahleen Glanton and Rick Pearson contributed to this report.