Now I’ve never been a die-hard late night fan. In fact, the only late night show host I stan for is John Oliver (Samantha Bee soon to be added to this list). To me late night was always celebrity press tours and average looking White men being mildly amusing. Since I’m not a normal viewer, I rely on
Hollywood has recently come under fire (again) for its lack of diversity in this years Oscar nominations spawning the return of the brilliant #OscarsSoWhite. All this talk of opportunity, equity, and diversity didn’t sit quite right with Jimmy Kimmel. He used his ample platform to mock the controversy, not to mock the Academy and their tendency to dismiss Black artistry, but to mock Blackness.
The bit is tired. During my first watch, I was torn between wanting to cry and wanting to smash my phone to pieces. I did neither. White people laughing at Black people’s pain is not new, so I just added this to the exhaustive list.
I can see the planning of this bit so clearly in my head. Jimmy’s writing team of average White dude bros seated around a table trying to come up with as many Black stereotypes and slang words as possible (their jokes coming from TV and movies, they don’t actually know Black people). All of them hailing from their segregated upbringings and their uniform social circles, cackling to each other at their cleverness. Never noticing the absence of Black voices in the room. Never caring enough to sit back and take stock of sameness they surrounded themselves with everyday. They didn’t consider that the skit was tone-deaf and relied on racism for the humor. How could they? They would have had to see Black people as full human beings, and Black art of equal worthiness as their own cultural products.
It seems as though the skit went well; the crowd laughed uproariously. It seems as if nothing has become more funny to White people than Black people not getting their due; it becomes truly hilarious when they speak up (or complain in the words of Kimmel) about it.
I guess I can’t be too upset. Jimmy didn’t mean any harm.
That’s just it, isn’t it. Jimmy didn’t mean any harm, and he meant to punch up not down. But, this joke only works for those White Americans living in the dream of meritocracy, and not us living the nightmare of injustice. If he has any misgivings about who exactly is the butt of the joke or who chortles alongside him, he can simply read the YouTube comments under the video. There are scores of White people laughing with him, waiting on bated breath to take us down for challenging their mirth.
I hope Jimmy learns from this (he won’t). I hope he gains the capacity to empathize with minorities (he currently reserves his empathy for lions). I have a lot of hope for Jimmy and for the scores of other tone-deaf White people. But everyday that goes by where I am mocked by late night hosts and lovable TV dads, that hope dwindles. One day it will dissipate completely.
Now please enjoy this genius of a sketch from SNL as a palate cleanser: