One of the things that makes Jon Stewart so irreplaceable is how much he made himself replaceable. Except for on one issue.
The world is waiting to see how Trevor Noah will do when he replaces Jon Stewart in the news desk chair he occupied for the past 16 years. But the replacement has been a work in progress for Stewart. From the start, Stewart showcased correspondents who would go on to create their own shows that shared the same mission: using humor to inform audience about important stories demonstrating hypocrisy, dishonesty, racism, exploitation, bigotry and ignorance of politicians, the media, corporations, and powerful individuals. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart became, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah will be, just one of a constellation of shows that are guided just as much be a sense of justice and empathy as by a sense of humor.
Stewart has always maintained that his politics are secondary to his comedy, “I’m a comedian first… My comedy is informed by an ideological background… But . . . I’m not an activist. I am a comedian,” he once said. But there are a number of times when he has explicitly dropped his comedic intentions and framing. Most recently, following the Charleston shooting in which a white supremacist killed nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Church, Stewart was unable or unwilling to bring the funny to his opening monologue:
Maybe if I wasn’t nearing the end of the run or this wasn’t such a common occurrence, maybe I could have pulled out of the spiral, but I didn’t… So I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend it doesn’t exist… I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.
Stewart acknowledged his departure from the comedy monologues which usually start the show, finishing up by saying, “Sorry about no jokes.” He had similarly earnest responses to 9/11 and to the Tucson shooting in 2011, which injured 13 people including Gabby Giffords.
For black and white americans, the difference between life and death is literally worlds apart. Although we may know this on some level, Nate Silver, the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight, has the startling statistics that demonstrate this reality.
As he explained to me on the latest episode of The Katie Halper Show, “If you’re a white person your chance of being murdered every year is 2.5 out of 10,000… If you’re a black person it’s 19.4, so almost eight times higher.”
To put this into context, Silver explained, the murder rate for white Americans is similar to the murder rate for people living in Finland, Chile or Israel. The murder rate for black Americans, on the other hand, is similar to the rate found “in developing countries that are war zones even, like Myanmar, or Rwanda, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, places that have vast disorder. To me that stat was so striking that I thought this was a case where even if you kinda zoomed out, that was a data point that helped to inform the discussion.”
A recent CNN/ORC poll found that the majority of Americans still believe that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern pride and not racism. Among the 1,017 people polled, 57% saw the flag as an expression of pride. Not surprisingly, more white participants, 66% of them, considered the flag to be about Southern pride, while only 17% of the Black participants did. 27% of the white participants and 75% of the Black participants saw the flag as racist. That’s a pretty big discrepancy. It must be that a lot of Black people are delusional and/ or Highly Sensitive Persons. Or it could be that a lot of white people don’t understand or pretend to not understand racism. I’m going with option two.
we have engaged in what I called a translucent lie. We know what the symbol [the Confederate Flag] is and we know the circumstances under which the symbol came into existence. When people would say this is heritage, not hate I would always respond by saying what makes you think those two things are mutually exclusive? Because the racial hatred that we’re talking about is a cornerstone of the heritage that people are trying to avoid or the heritage that people are trying to photoshop. Why does the Confederate flag have the appeal that it has to right wing, white supremacist organizations? If this is in fact about such a benign southern heritage, then why do we see it cropping up in such close proximity to organizations that are avowedly racist.
Cobb’s point about the white supremacist tendencies found among the most avid defenders of the Confederate flag reminded me of Anna and Nathan Robb, the married couple of Branson, MO, who own Dixie Outfitters, which sells confederate souvenirs, T-shirts and memorabilia. Business at Dixie Outfitters is booming now that retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Sears and eBay have stopped selling Confederate flag merch. Anna is adamant that there is nothing racist or hateful about her store’s confederate tchotchkes. (A tchotchke is the Yiddish word for a trinket. Cobb and I decided it was probably not kosher to combine “confederate” and “tchotchke” but let’s file it under subversive.) Instead, insists Anna, her store is about
Reporter/entertainer Geraldo Rivera is famous for speaking truth to power, and shifting blame away from racism and onto Black people. Who can forget when he spoke the uncomfortable truth that nobody wanted to say, but that everyone who has ever seen a sweatshirt with a hood knew and felt: “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” So true.
Well, now, Rivera is back with more cultural critique and reality distortion. Appearing on the Fox News program, The Five, on Monday night, Rivera indicted Hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s performance of “Alright” on Sunday night’s BET Awards, in which he rapped, “We hate the po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho.” Rivera described the performance and song as
not helpful, to say the least. This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years. This is exactly the wrong message.
I think we can all agree that, over the past few years, hip-hop and their lyrics, especially their critique of police brutality, have claimed way more lives than actual police brutality, AND institutionalized racism combined.I’m not sure how, exactly. But I feel it. In my gut. And my gut is never wrong. Except when it’s full and I feel hungry.
Early Saturday filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome scaled the poll in front of the South Carolina Statehouse and took down the Confederate Flag that continues to fly. But don’t worry guys: within the hour, the Flag had been replaced, just in time for an 11AM White Supremacist rally, and Newsome was arrested.
The flag continues to fly despite the calls for its removal, in light of the Charleston shooting, from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and a group of the state’s top lawmakers. But the the move requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the South Carolina Legislature.
In a statement Newsome said, “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
And yet, the idea that the Confederate Flag represents anything but racism persists. Historian Claire Potter, a professor at the New School, joined me on my new radio show and she spoke about the false dichotomy, which presents the flag as a symbol of (A) racism or (B) heritage. She referred to a New York Times article which read,
… many say it is a symbol of the South’s heritage, culture and military pride and can be displayed without any sense of racism.
Does displaying the flag show historic appreciation, or is it a symbol of a reviled era, that breeds racism and should not be officially approved?
James Brown served two tours in Iraq and was diagnosed with PTSD. In exchange for his service and sacrifice, the 26-year-old father of two died in a Texas jail, where prison guards in riot gear stormed his cell and ignored his cries that he was choking on his own blood and unable to breathe.
James Brown, who reported to an El Paso jail where he was supposed to serve a two-day sentence for driving while intoxicated, died in 2012. While his family suspected foul play, only recently was the local news station KFOX14 able to obtain video recorded by one of the prison guards. The footage, which is extremely disturbing and painful to watch, shows that Brown has started bleeding for unknown reasons. When he doesn’t respond to the prison guard, as many as five guards dressed in riot gear storm Brown’s cell, forcing him to the ground. At no point does Brown appear to be resisting the guards. He does, however, state repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and, “I’m choking on my blood.” He’s then taken to the infirmary, where he has a mask placed over his face and is given an injection. He continues to state he can’t breathe and, as evident in this exchange, is denied all requests to change his position or have the mask removed:
I know, what you’re doing. Because I did it too. I thought that the peaceful protests and the riots in Baltimore were in response to the police murder of Freddie Gray, police brutality, the culture of police impunity, and systemic racism. It turns out, we’re off. Way off. Here’s what’s really to blame (besides Obama, but we already knew that): gay marriage, single parenting, low self-esteem, entitlements and personal behavior, whatever that means.
Valentine’s Day is known for its commercialism and sexism, but it also deserves credit for its racist advertising. The racism shown in the greeting cards is overt and unapologetic. What makes them that more disturbing is the way they make use of children, humor, and puns in particular, sanitizing the gravity of not only stereotypes but literally by presenting it in a cutesy and playful way. While the racism in these images is more overt, many of today’s cartoon’s, comics, and greeting cards express stereotypes though (alleged) comedy. Far from satire, which has the ability to challenge and discredit prejudices and stereotypes, they perpetuate them through contrived and obvious so-called jokes. People will often defend these representations by saying, “it’s just a joke, don’t be so sensitive, don’t be so P.C.” Could the same be said about these cards? And if not, what does that say about the caricatures of today and those who defend them? Many of these cards are for sale on Ebay or Amazon. Hopefully, the people buying them are doing so because they are studying or writing about them and not because they find them amusing. Dr. Harvey Young certainly falls into the first category. A historian and critic, Dr. Young is Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University, where he holds appointments in African American Studies, Performance Studies, and Radio/Television/Film. He is the author of several books, including Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory and the Black Body. In 2012 Dr. Young delivered a lecture at Northwestern on stereotypes and caricatures in Valentine’s Day Cards from the early 20th century and his research on the subject will be included in his forthcoming book explores how people learn about race through objects and media. While these cards may seem like mere relics of the past and archaic artifacts, they are closer to the present than they appear. As Dr. Young told me in an e-mail, “These cards were bestsellers into the early 1930s. A lot of people’s grandparents purchased and exchanged them. This history is more recent and much closer to home than most people suspect or want to acknowledge.” Without further ado, here are 25 racist Valentine’s Day greeting card, mocking Black, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Native American and even Scottish people.