Larry Wilmore, a Black American comedy writer, spoke at the White House Correspondents Dinner this past Saturday, April 30th 2016. After telling jokes about politicians and the news media for some 20 minutes, he gave Barack Obama, the guest of honour, his heartfelt congratulations:
“When I was a kid I lived in a country where people couldn’t accept a Black quarterback. Now think about that: A Black man was thought by his mere colour not good enough to lead a football team. And now to live in your time, Mr. President, when a Black man can lead the entire free world. Words alone do me no justice. So, Mr. President, I’m going to keep it a hundred: Yo Barry, you did it, my niggah.”
Backstage, in private, Wilmore’s words could have been a beautiful moment.
But frontstage, in front of the hyper-White audience in the room and a White-majority audience on national television, it was, at best, cringeworthy, if not worse. At least to me. I know not everyone will agree.
Full disclosure: I am one of those who think the word cannot be reclaimed in a country as racist as the US.
Larry Wilmore has written for tons of television shows. He created “The Bernie Mac Show” (2001-2006) and has his own show on Comedy Central, “The Nightly Show” (2015- ), in Stephen Colbert’s old time slot. But he is probably best known for being the Senior Black Correspondent on “The Daily Show”, a news comedy made famous by Jon Stewart. Even there Wilmore had his cringeworthy moments, walking the fine line of racist satire. You know, the kind where you know he is trying to make fun of racism, but you feel like racists are laughing at it for the wrong reasons.
Wilmore did use the affectionate conjugation, ending the N-word with an -ah instead of an -er. But it seems that was quickly lost on White people. Even the country’s foremost Beyonceologist, Piers Morgan, misquoted Wilmore using the -er ending.
Wilmore, a Black comedian, does this in front of a country where White people point to Black comedians as a reason they should be allowed to use the N-word in mixed company. And there Wilmore is, using it in mixed company. On television. Coast to coast. To the president.
And, contrary to what Black comedians have White people believing, not all Black people use the word or think it is acceptable, however affectionately conjugated.
If Hillary Clinton becomes president, will it be all right if, say, Sarah Silverman “affectionately” calls her a “bitch” on national television at a White House dinner? Or will the respect due the president’s office make that, suddenly, unacceptable?
And none of that is even the worst part. The worst part is that Wilmore did this in front of a country where, for the past eight years, many White people, like at least a third, have thought of Obama as “nothing but a n*****”. Unaffectionately conjugated.
– Abagond, 2016.
- The N-word
- Larry Wilmore
- racist jokes – bad for many of the same reasons racial slurs are.