Was the 'Barack the Magic Negro' Ditty Really Racist?

Mimicking the voice of the Rev. Al Sharpton, the song -- which first aired on Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show -- begins like this:

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.

The L.A. Times, they called him that 'Cause he's not authentic like me.

Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper Said he makes guilty whites feel good.

They'll vote for him, and not for me 'Cause he's not from the hood.

The tune is certainly provocative and amusing. The problem is that, for those who want to condemn it as racist -- as many on the Left tried to do -- it's hard to get there with a straight line.

After all, this controversy didn't begin with Chip Saltsman and the Republican National Committee. It didn't even start with Paul Shanklin, the comedian who recorded the CD. The whole concept of "Barack the Magic Negro" originated on the Left, as a way for some to question Obama's racial authenticity and deride the eagerness with which some white people used their support for Obama's candidacy to demonstrate how progressive they were and assuage feelings of guilt over a history of racial discrimination.

This was all spelled out in detail by "the guy from the LA Paper" -- Los Angeles-based writer David Ehrenstein, himself an African-American. In March 2007, just one month after Obama declared his candidacy for president, Ehrenstein wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. He wrote that, besides running for president, Obama was also "running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination -- the 'Magic Negro' ... while having to endure criticism (white and black alike) concerning his alleged 'inauthenticity.'" And like the dragon in the 1960s folk song, Obama is -- according to Ehrenstein -- make believe. That's the whole point. "The less real he seems," Ehrenstein writes, "the more desirable he becomes."

So if the concept of "Barack the Magic Negro" is racist, then who exactly is the racist? Chip Saltsman? Paul Shanklin? David Ehrenstein? Or maybe those African-American powerbrokers, like Rev. Al Sharpton, who questioned whether Obama was really black and applied a litmus test to find out?

Maybe it's all of the above, or none of the above.

Maybe what we should be worried about, instead, is how quickly those on the Left jump at the chance to paint the opposing camp as hostile to minorities -- so they can score cheap political points, manipulate the slighted, and continue to reap a benefit that is unearned.

Now that's offensive.