Comedian Bill Maher is known for his politically incorrect shtick. He knows better than anyone that nothing guarantees viral attention in this age of social media quite like a snarky point, sick prank, or salacious photo.
Moreover, it’s self-evident that the aim of most points, pranks, and photos is not to provoke enlightened thought or stimulate informed debate. Rather it’s to attract mindless YouTube views, Twitter followers, Facebook and/or Instagram likes, etc. – all as a testament to one’s own popularity or in service to one’s own narcissism.
Granted, in some cases, easy money motivates too, as the Kardashians would readily attest.
Going too far
But the fallout from comedian Kathy Griffin’s sick prank shows that one can go too far. No doubt you’ve seen the viral image of Griffin holding up a dummy of Donald Trump’s blood-soaked, severed head, ISIS style.
The (viral) outrage was such that TV stations and concert venues began canceling her gigs, making her as bookable as Michael Richards. Remember him?
Now ballsy, wanna-play-ISIS Griffin is crying me a river about Trump and his sons bullying and breaking her. As much as I despise Trump and pity his kids, I feel no sympathy for her.
Which brings me to Maher
He too just went too far. His (latest) outrage stems from an exchange he had on Friday with Republican Senator Ben Sasse on his HBO show, “Real Time.”
According to the New York Times, the offense came when Maher lamented the folly of grown-ups dressing up for Halloween.
“When Mr. Sasse said this did not happen in his state, Mr. Maher said, ‘I’ve got to get to Nebraska more.’
“Mr. Sasse replied: ‘You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.’
“Mr. Maher said: ‘Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.’”
Calling them out
I’ve been calling out White liberals – including President Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, and Obama’s putative successor, Hillary Clinton – for racist quips like this for years.
In 2012, Biden injected the following not-so-subtle dog whistle about race into a speech he delivered before a predominantly Black crowd in Southern Virginia, according to C-SPAN:
“Romney wants to let the, he said the first 100 days he’s gon’ let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchaaain Wall Street … they gon’ put y’all back in chains.”
I noted that Republicans decrying racism in this context is rather like prostitutes decrying promiscuity. That said, I find what Biden said was insulting. Far too many Blacks react to racist remarks by White Democrats (or liberals) by simply pointing to racist remarks by White Republicans (or conservatives). I do not.
Here, for example, is what I wrote in 2006 when Hillary Clinton declared that (White) Republicans were treating (White) Democrats in Congress like slaves:
“This … demonstrates the insidious entitlement White liberals have been granted – by politically compromised Black leaders – to make all kinds of racial jibes with impunity; so long as those White liberals are celebrated supporters/members of the Democratic Party.
“And, in this case, it only added insult to the racial offense that Hillary made these remarks in the front of an ‘Amen’ crowd at a Black church in Harlem – where she ‘came back home’ like a proverbial prodigal daughter.”
Just as it was with Hillary’s, what added insult to Biden’s remarks was the way he exaggerated his intonations and broken English to, gasp, sound Blacker (i.e., ignorant). Yet in each case, instead of jeering, Blacks cheered.
Back in 2005, I chastised Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in a column titled, “US Senator Calls Bush’s Black Female Judicial Nominee an Ape.” The White liberal involved in that case was no less a person than “liberal lion” Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
I lost what little respect I still had for them when neither Jackson nor Sharpton, both putative civil rights leaders, failed to utter a word of condemnation against Kennedy. But you can imagine their outcry if he were a White conservative, especially considering that Kennedy hurled this sub-simian slur during a public hearing on Judge Janice Brown’s nomination.
This is why I am less outraged by what Maher said than by the apparent license influential Blacks gave him to say it. They should have joined me years ago in condemning White liberals who say racist things. What’s more, we should condemn them with even greater indignation than we do when we condemn White conservatives for the same. After all, we expect more of our so-called White liberal friends.
I am heartened that at least some of these Blacks are coming to their senses. Because here is how Sharpton, according to Reuters, led a (still-too-small) chorus of Blacks in condemning Maher:
“‘Bill Maher decided to get on television last night and sanitize and normalize the n-word,” civil-rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton said in his Saturday sermon in New York. ‘Just because Bill Maher is liberal and our friend, you don’t give him a pass … you never get the right to use that term.’”
It’s almost as if I wrote that for him, for the glaring, self-subjugating fact that nobody has done more to “sanitize and normalize the n-word” than ignorant and misguided Black folks, especially in the hip-hop community.
Just an apology
Unsurprisingly, Maher hastened to apologize. But I suspect that if he were a conservative, Sharpton would have demanded his head, and that he suffer the same career-ending fate Richards suffered and Griffin is now suffering.
And so the double standard persists. Regrettably, this not only undermines the moral authority of influential Blacks on race matters, but also affirms the self-righteousness far too many White liberals display when it comes to the lingering scourge of racism in America.
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian native with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.