After “niggergate” last week, Bill Maher did little on his show this past Friday to convince me that he learned anything. I saw Maher, a political commentator, try to hide under the shield of comedy and throw himself on the altar of, “I made one mistake.” Maher never wrestled with the simple truth that white supremacy and indifference to black suffering are the American norm and that is what brought about this whole thing.
It matters. The world is not a dangerous place for black people because the Klan patrols the streets of our cities. The world is dangerous because although black suffering exists, from the White House to the trailer parks of America, there are too few human responses of compassion. Policymakers have shown the ability to respond to white opioid users in their suffering and they should. Yet black people suffering with addiction are met with law and order. Indifference is dangerous.
I never see (non-Jewish) comedians dare try or get away with Holocaust jokes. I haven’t seen anyone bold enough to joke about 9/11. Yet slavery, somehow, is a subject for white liberals to joke about. How, Sway? It is understood that the suffering of 9/11 and the Holocaust are no laughing matters but Maher was quite comfortable invoking references of house slaves in his attempt at humor last week. The use of the n-word was an obvious offense but the reference to slavery in the most casual and irreverent manner is, on its own, deeply offensive. How is it that the death of millions during the Middle Passage, the raping of women and children, the decimation of families and untold horror over centuries are laughing matters? Only when those who suffer are black.
As I watched this week’s show, it was clear that Maher doesn’t think he, like most Americans, suffers from some deeper condition. Maher continued to insist on this week’s show that he made one mistake, one bad joke and that not rooted in any racist sentiment. I’m sure most members of Congress and state legislatures honestly believe they hold no racial animus either but their indifference to black suffering still yields policies that often have a disparate, if not targeted impact on black communities. From the War on Drugs to the disparities in funding HBCUs receive, many lawmakers who think themselves well intentioned do actual harm to black people. Maher seems unable to connect his actions to this larger machinery of white supremacy and that is unfortunate. That Maher is a liberal, one of the “good guys,” is frightening.
Symone Sanders and Michael Eric Dyson made the point on this week’s Real Time show that slaves in the house were also subject to terror. Still, the message that slavery along with the n-word are off limits was not pressed. Further, Dyson challenged his friend (Maher) to see how his actions as a “good guy” speak to the danger in the world that exists but did not press the matter, choosing rather to highlight some mythical record Maher has fighting for black liberation. Perhaps Dyson did not want to eternally wound a friend or perhaps he sensed Maher’s unwillingness to do more than navigate the bad PR from last week. Who knows? I only know Maher seemed agitated when his guests tried to delve into the matter, repeatedly throwing up his wonderful liberal credentials.
Maher blew it. It is clear he simply wanted the matter to be over, the storm to pass. Maher probably believes in his heart that he is truly one of the good guys and that any energy spent correcting his “one mistake” or other white liberals is better spent on the really bad people in the world. Then again, if my roommate showed signs that he was capable of harming me, I’d probably pay more attention to him than the “n-word” down the block.