I posted recently on my Facebook Page that I was called a Magical Negro. You may be familiar with Magical Negro Characters like Will Smith’s character in Bagger Vance, or Michael Clarke Duncan’s character in The Green Mile. Glenn and Cunningham discuss it further in their paper The Power of Black Magic: The Magical Negro and White Salvation in Film which is available at http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1177/0021934707307831.
I was told.
“Yeah. the people from foreign is come and get paid for the big contracts and thing and y’all is be in the water and the bush and in all their pictures. They proud to have you there with them and be like ‘wow, this the best Bahamian scientist!’, but een gern pay you like they get paid, real talk. You is a magical negro. you a sidekick bro.”-not publicizing the friend’s name, but quoted with permission
I laughed at first. I was familiar with the term but never thought of myself in that regard. It’s awkward.
I have done some cool things in my life but looking back, you can see the thread. (some threads should not be pulled, because things unravel in strange ways).
There are lots of images with me in conservation work online, I’ve helped to coordinate and lead science and conservation conferences in different countries and universities. Of course, I am publicly visible in the Bahamas as a conservationist too. I am a black man in a mostly black country and to be honest, I did not think much about my blackness until I went to University of Maryland Eastern Shore. There, fellow poets challenged my love of my white grandmother as they held whiteness in general contempt. I was also much closer to the effects of racism where the tree a mentally disabled black man was lynched from stood in front of the town court house.
Returning home, one of my first interactions with my new found “educated” culture was to pick up a piece of trash a passenger threw out of the bus. I asked if he would throw it in a proper receptacle. I was then ridiculed by both the passenger and the bus driver. The passenger called me “white boy” implying I thought I was better than he because of my lighter skin tone and care for the environment.
So… this is new. Magical negro implies the white star of the show is here to save us. I, as the magical negro, have special powers or abilities, which the white savior does not have. It creates an illusion of equality or even that the negro is even more awesome than the white savior in some regard, but ultimately, the role of the magical negro could be played by another character or tool. The blackness of the magical negro adds contrast to the character and often is referenced counterpoint to their abilities in the way they speak, dress, or act.
Ummm… yeah. I guess I am. I have done research where my name is never mentioned in the final report. I have drafted letters to princes for the government, I have supported various organizations in recognizing issues in diversity.
I don’t mind it. I do the science I love for me and my community mostly. I do however, know that I am creating a generation that will not be playing second fiddle. in 20 years of conservation work I am proud to have inspired a generation of conservationists, educators, politicians and business owners. If that ain’t magical, I don’t know what is.
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