Comedian Bill Maher was driving the social justice bus and he fell asleep behind the wheel. Maher dozed off and called himself a “house nigger” on his show during a conversation with Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska. The comment set off a firestorm again about the use of the N word. Why are we still talking about this? But since we are, I’m going to add my two cents worth to the conversation.
Full disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Bill Maher. His brand of humor doesn’t appeal to me. That said I want to explain why we should not be surprised. In watching the clip, I thought the word slipped too easily from his mouth for it to have been an accident. The N-word is part of Maher’s vocabulary. Even so-called allies are not immune to thoughts of bigotry. Allies with the best intentions are still white in a world where white is still right.
Maher apologized and admitted that he “did a very bad thing” and even had a sit-down conversation with his friend sociology professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Rapper/Actor Ice Cube. Even though Maher apologized and appeared willing to listen to what his guests had to say, it came off to me like, hey, I said I was sorry. Can we move on? I don’t know if he fully understood the weight of what he said and why so many people were offended. Cube was right when he said that Maher was a little too comfortable. He thought his Black friends and girlfriends, his support of Black Lives Matter and his contributions to Barack Obama’s campaign gave him a pass. For some it did; for many it did not.
It was pointed out in both clips that it was a teachable moment, and it was. I just hope people were paying attention. Probably not. We’ve been down this road before, and this won’t be the last time.
And while Maher might be a cool guy to many, let’s not forget that he too perpetuates stereotypes about Black people. Remember when Maher said that President Obama wasn’t Black enough? Maher called Obama a Wayne Brady kind of Black which created tension between him and fellow comedian Wayne. What does that mean? That all-Black-children-are-born-to-single-mothers-on –welfare-with-different-baby-daddies-who-grow-up to-be gun-toting, drug-selling thugs.
I took issue with Dyson and Cube constantly trying to reassure Maher that when they were talking about white people and their use of the N word that they weren’t talking about him. Why wasn’t he one of them? Because he’s supposed to be woke? Well, he fell asleep and slammed into the median of inappropriateness. I belong to a few groups on social media and we discuss race. The white people in my groups never use the N word. How woke does one have to be to get a nigger pass and how is Maher any different from the liberal, I-voted-for-Obama undercover racist dad in Get Out? Just asking.
I liked the Daily Show and I loved John’s Stewart’s passion for social justice issues. And though I was disappointed, I was not surprised when one of Stewart’s former writers, Wyatt Cenac said Stewart told him to “fuck off” during a heated debate about a segment that Cenac said was racially insensitive. Remember when Matt Damon another liberal and Obama supporter fell asleep behind the wheel? During the 4th season of HBO’s Greenlight Project, Damon interrupted Black film producer Effie Brown to explain diversity. He nodded off and drove right off the road.
And who can forget the Queen of driving while white and fighting against injustice? Rachel Dolezal’s advocacy is overshadowed by a blatant lie. For years she passed for Black knowing that one day it was going to blow up in her face. She did great work, but she lived a lie. She still doesn’t understand the wreckage she left behind when her lies and the truth collided head on. Some of us are still trying to recover from that one. I think it’s hard because Dolezal denies even being at the scene the accident.
In each of these scenarios, the actions of our allies left us bleeding on the side of the road. And white people are good for whitesplaining and mansplaining away the blood dripping from our faces when our heads hit the steering wheel. (See previous examples). When woke white folks fall asleep behind the wheel, they need to be held accountable for the injuries they cause. “I’m sorry,” is not enough to take away the pain.