W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T Washington. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The NWA and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There has been a perennial dichotomy in African American culture about militant action and cooperation when it comes to their relationship with White culture. For me, reading Morgan Parker's Magical Negro is to take a tour of the African American soul and revisit that established dichotomy and wonder if they can be unified in any means.
As Parker swerves around key Black figures from Eartha Kitt to Richard Pryor to the Jeffersons, these folk heroes from the realms of music, poetry, television, sports, politics and the news represent an all-encompassing tribute to Black culture through their negotiations with White culture, and how they become that ‘Talented Tenth’ that Du Bois calls out for, but at the same time, becoming mainstream in the process. I am reminded at once of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself and how he makes a spiritual travel across the United States to seek out experience from every nook and cranny of the US, and Parker makes the same endeavour to seek out the soul of African American culture, its pride, its fears and anxieties. At the same time, I am also reminded of how the African American women is doubly prejudiced because of her race and her sex, something Parker takes head on since her previous collection There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé. Take for example,
Since I thought I’d be dead
by now everything
I do is fucking perfect walking wreck
reckless and men
I suck their bones until they’re perfect
(“Magical Negro #217: Diana Ross Finishing a Rib in Alabama, 1990s”)
Her voice is equal part guide and warrior, possessing an amazement at the quotidian, unwavering in its journey. It is celebratory in its boldness, and cuts to the heart of the root of injustice in the States. Parker’s voice is simultaneously sentimental and furious, biting and holding back. Her control and mastery over poetry as speech act is something that is empowering in so many ways. Magical Negro is not just another song for myself, but a rap to reclaim her identify for every African American woman.
by Crispin Rodrigues