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Reply #56: Well, try reading it more closely [View All]

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anigbrowl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-29-08 06:30 PM
Response to Reply #28
56. Well, try reading it more closely
The term was not invented by the writer (who's black, incidentally), but already had currency in the entrtainment world and among sociologists of fiction. If you click on the wikipedia link in the article, you'll get more background - including the fact that the term was popularized by Spike Lee, who is (obviously) black. The character itself is one that's very well established in both Hollywood and literary fiction, in various permutations.

I don't care for it myself. I stopped reading science fiction by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, for example, after I noticed that whenever an Asian character was introduced it was invariably a beautiful female who was doomed to die within 20 pages and provide her (rugged, white) husband with a legitimate Revenge Motive. Often the role of a minority-race character in a largely white story is to point up the decency of the white hero/ine - by having a non-white friend/spouse/mentor, the leading character is established as Definitely Not A Racist (especially useful in science fiction if the character is later meant to carry out genocide against aliens).

Killing the sympathetic minority character off frequently occurs, since it gives the protagonist an iron-clad excuse to go on a vengeful killing spree, or alternatively shows that the antagonist is totally lacking in redeeming features and that it's quite OK for him/her to meet a gruesome end. A current counter-intuitive trend is to set up a magical negro character in the conventional way but then have them turn out to be a Bad Guy (eg in Training Day) - if the mentor figure is corrupt, then of course their resulting death in a hail of gunfire or whatever is quite justified.

Bear in mind that there's nothing inherently racist about these fictional archetypes. Pretty much all heroic fiction (this is a specific technical term) includes some sort of mentor/shaman character who's outside normal society and whose perspective or motivations may seem ambivalent at first. Yoda is a typical example, the first time you see the Empire Strikes back you're briefly misled into thinking he's set Luke up to get killed by Darth Vader. The archetype of of the helpful mentor who turns out to be corrupt is also a very old plot device.

The point of the article was Obama was in danger of being trapped in the role of the black person who validates the existing power structure; at the time of writing, Clinton still looked like a very strong contender, and Obama might have ended up as the token black guy, whose good eprformance in the primaries could be touted by the Democratic party for years to come while it went on with the business-as-usual of selecting well-connected white people.
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