Archive for the ‘American fiction’ Category

bruce_almighty_fullThe magical Negro has been a stock character in American fiction since at least the late 1950s. It is a Negro, a black person, who comes out of nowhere with strange powers or deep wisdom to help white people, sometimes even giving his life.


  • Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost”
  • Will Smith in “The Legend of Bagger Vance”
  • Michael Clarke Duncan in “The Green Mile”
  • Ruby Dee in “The Stand”
  • Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty”
  • Laurence Fishburne in “The Matrix”
  • Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones”

Magical Negroes are common in the books of  Stephen King.

Will Smith in “Six Degrees of Separation” plays on white people’s seeming need to believe in magical Negroes. It is based on the true story of David Hampton.

Most magical Negroes are not fleshed-out characters that we come to care about – for the most part they are plot devices. They come out of nowhere and often disappear.

Black-skinned people with strange powers is not limited just to American stories in our day. “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is based on an ancient story from India, one where Will Smith’s character was often painted with black skin!

A thousand years ago in China there were stories of black slaves of great strength and secret knowledge, who saved their master’s lovers or found hidden treasure for them. They could cure people with their strange, black skin.

Is the magical Negro a racist character?

Magical Negroes often put black characters in a good light – Morgan Freeman gets to play God and Ruby Dee becomes the wise and good Mother Abigail. It also shows them giving their lives for others – a noble thing.

Their strange powers allow them to escape white stereotypes of blacks as incapable. It allows them to deal with whites on equal terms.

Yet it also shows blacks as being strange and different, as other. The idea that blacks might have some deep power or wisdom comes from viewing them as being closer to animals than whites are and therefore more in tune with nature. It is the same sort of thinking that leads to stereotypes about blacks as being oversexed.

Blacks giving themselves selflessly in the service of whites is something you see in the Mammy stereotype of older Hollywood films. It is an idea that goes back to slave days.

Is Barack Obama a magical Negro?

His blackness makes him a great unknown to many whites. This causes some to fear him because there is no telling what he might do. But it also causes other whites to have unfounded hope in him – because there is no telling what he might do (in a good way, that is). Something that became important after the fall of the Wall Street banks. That is seeing Obama as a magical Negro.

Barack Obama is also a David Hampton character: some whites, because of their hangups about blacks, want to think well of him and, again, have an unfounded confidence in him.

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