We all remember when The Daily Show was good. We remember when Jon Stewart was a liberal caped-crusader, poised to loosen Fox News’s grip on middle American opinion with the intellectual’s choice defense against tyranny: satire.
When he left, The Daily Show entered a new era with a fresh-faced, South African who relies more on an even keeled delivery than the fiery reprimand of his predecessor. Trevor Noah is a millennial face, and to assume he wasn’t chosen to draw young viewers would be silly: he’s black, he’s educated, and he’s funny (if you’ve had enough wine, and he may actually know wine well enough to offer you pairings). As great as Trevor Noah’s placement at the helm of the young voter’s newsdesk is for black excellence, the appointment has always carried a pandering air.
Enter Noah’s on-air encounter with Alt-Right, porcelain conservative, Tomi Lahren.
Headlines were quick to describe the meeting--on both sides--as a thrashing, an evisceration, a throttling, a shut-down while it was none of those things. Referencing SNL’s clever, but too-little -too-late web skit “The Bubble”, Noah made an earnest effort to understand his opponent. He wanted to form a rhetorical bridge they would both cross to so-called “common ground”.
Tomi Lahren became even more entrenched in her views and by all measures, she stuck to her guns. When pressed on her thin attempts to assert that she didn’t “see color”, she kept smiling. Noah delivered many newsworthy retorts to Lahren’s cacao-nib infused conservatism such as “I don’t believe you don’t see color”--which we only call newsworthy because they were made into headlines.
Liberals rejoiced, because any win after the victory of Donald Trump is just that: a win.
This does not change the fact that Tomi Lahren is a racist and while she was a guest on The Daily Show, she was a racist with a wider national audience. Touted as the conservative millennial’s voice, all she has done is enforce the idea that white women have very little reason to care about minorities and progress, so long as white men exist to save them. If election exit polls are anything to go by, Lahren is not unique; she’s Ann Coulter after having found the fountain of youth, she is Kellyanne Conway’s niece, the one who went to Ole Miss, she is every white woman who has ever called her black friend “articulate”, she is this video:
Lahren’s brand of racism does not involve burning crosses and tailoring her boyfriend’s white hood. It’s the kind of racism that leads to defenses of Taylor Swift and a kindred connection to the cast of Lena Dunham’s Girls. As harmless as these things seem, they are still a symptom of America’s and the West’s scourge: white supremacy.
When Donald Trump won, black people weren’t surprised--half of America didn’t even care about this election. When given the choice between a Washington veteran with a long service record but trigger happy foreign policy and a bonafide authoritarian fear-mongering rapist, this time just wasn’t very fun, and it didn’t paint a pretty picture for America’s future. This election proved to many voters that change and progress in America, hell, the world, is an illusion. What more proof does a disillusioned voter who posts hashtags of dead black men and women, and the gruesome treatment of indigenous people need to realize America has a problem with race? Not much, but the institution of white supremacy made damn sure to let us know by deploying election strategy that made it okay to refer to black American voters and taxpayers as others. When a presidential candidate refers to portions of the electorate as “the blacks”, “the Hispanics”, we’ve entered the era of out and proud racism.
Prior to Trump, white people who existed on the spectrum of racism that made them simply avoid “the blacks” in lieu of lynching them were afraid to make their hate public knowledge. After Trump, racism is being treated as an opinion, particularly by liberals who are hoping to glean some understanding of their candidate’s loss. Trevor Noah is one of those liberals.
Knowing this, how do we truly, honestly evaluate his on-air meeting with Tomi Lahren?
Do we consider it a win because he drew an avowed opponent of Black Lives Matter to his studio for what we assume was a paid-appearance and a “verbal censure” of her views? Or do we consider it a loss because it normalized the discussion of Pintrest-brand racism’s place in the rhetorical pantheon as simple, albeit abrasive, opinion? I vote the latter.
Noah failed to take Tomi Lahren to task on her racist views because he himself (even as a black man) doesn’t understand the intricacies of white supremacy, and just how insidious its influence can be. He doesn’t understand that racists look like the Mary Kay lady. He doesn’t understand that racism, no matter what part of the spectrum it occupies, is just racism. Had he understood these things, he could have used that even-keeled delivery to truly school Lahren. Whether or not this would change her views is up for debate. That also poses another question, one that ponders whether or not racists should ever be afforded nuanced attempts to be understood.
In my opinion, racists, particularly white supremacists, exist because they fail to see the mirror image of their struggles in the trials faced daily by people of color. They are often uneducated--though the more dangerous types hold college degrees--and because of white supremacy’s legacy, truly believe that they were meant for something greater than the shitty contract work they have a hard time coming by. It’s no secret that the American racist has a long history of voting against their self-interests. Reagan’s Southern Strategy took full advantage of this; Lee Atwater, Reagan’s campaign manager, made no secret of this:
Perhaps this reality is why Trevor Noah made what I’m sure he considered an enlightened effort to find common ground with Tomi Lahren. Still, he made one huge mistake in treating her racism as a simple matter of opinion thus normalizing this evaluation for millions of American’s who were watching that night and have seen the clips online.
If we call racism what it is, we are not stifling opinion, we are inviting serious dialogue.
Knowing that, if you’re going to talk about racism, you better know your shit. You should know that white supremacy is one of the most prevalent forms of control in the West, you should know that white supremacy is the very reason behind so-called “working-class resentment”, you should know that white supremacy is the genesis of the West’s struggle to achieve a truly multicultural society that values and benefits from people hailing from all walks of life. If you know none of these things, you shouldn’t find it appropriate to take on Becky with the Bad Tan, especially with a television audience.