Urban Fantasy 101: Magical Negros in the Genre

One of the most infuriating things about urban fantasy as a genre is that one of the most familiar representations for Black readers (and of Black people) comes in the form of the magical Negro figure.

In his article “The School for Magical Negros”, Michael Harriot writes that:

The Magical Negro is the white man’s idealized version of black people—a cross between faithful slave servant who walks with his head down and a superhero too conservatively demure to wear a cape and too grateful for the benevolence of white people to slit their throats for past atrocities. He may drop his “r’s” and use incorrect subject-verb agreement (because a literal incarnation of the perfect black stereotype, by definition, can’t be smart), but he is the incarnation of the friendliest, most loving, loyal dream of a human being.

And that’s the heart of it: magical negro characters literally exist to serve (usually, but not always) white characters on their quest to great magical power.

They exist to use their magical talent (which sometimes isn’t even actual magic but uncanny ability to be exactly what the white protagonist needs to fix themselves) and provide education to prepare the naïve non-black protagonist for magical success. Unless you’re lucky, there’s rarely any attempt at fleshing out the magical negro character or acknowledging either his talent or blackness beyond what those things can bring the hero.

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