I'm more interested in Larry Wilmore's segment (at 02:25), in which he satirizes common white expectations of a heroically positioned black man -- expectations, that is, that Obama would be another iteration of an old Hollywood standby, the Magic Negro.
I do agree that with Wilmore's satiric point: that a lot of white liberals had their hopes for Obama primed by the cultural pervasiveness of this racial stereotype, and that part of their current disappointment in Obama is a realization that he hasn't proven to be another Magic Negro.
So I'm interested, as Wilmore seems to be, in common white reactions to Obama as a black man. But I'm also interested in common white reactions to Larry Wilmore, as a black man analyzing those common white reactions to Obama as a black man. More about that below the clip . . .
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart|
|The First 364 Days 23 Hours|
I first saw this clip at Gawker, which has long struck me as a place that assumes its readership is comprised primarily of media-savvy, relatively hip, mostly white people (and maybe even people who, although they openly hate "hipsters," often actually fit the hipster profile). In Gawker's post about this clip, the main point of which is that the "The Daily Show" writers "still haven't gotten a good bead on" Obama, Wilmore's segment is briefly described -- and not analyzed:
Larry Wilmore followed and did his thing, which is basically: Talking to white people like they are all racist. This was pretty funny too!
I don't know about you, but given the general tone at Gawker, that description reads to me like sarcasm. Sarcasm that really means, "Wilmore did his same old shtick, which really wasn't all that funny, because it's actually offensive. It's reverse racism, because come now, not all white people are racist! Who does this black man think he is, implying things like that about white people?" And so on.
I think that as before, Jon Stewart does play "typical white guy" here to Larry Wilmore's "racially wise black guy." Stewart again acts rather cowed and frightened by Wilmore, as well as disappointed. He becomes disappointed because although he's feeling sort of racially vulnerable, he still is listening respectfully to what Wilmore has to say. As a result, his typical and naive white liberal hopes -- in this case, in Obama -- are being exposed as such, and then dashed yet again.
In other words, I think that Wilmore's satiric insights -- in this case, about a common white-liberal tendency to let Obama's non-threatening blackness evoke the hoary Magic Negro stereotype -- are brilliant. And Stewart and his writers seem to agree; I think they're basically providing a platform of sorts that makes the insights offered by Wilmore available to those white people willing to grapple with them.
As for Stewart's ongoing role in the brief, staged dialogues that he sometimes has with Wilmore, I think he may be enacting how he and/or his writers think the show's largely white liberal audience should receive Wilmore's insights into their thought and behavior. That is, humbly, and respectfully. Even if, for a lot of white people in such a dialogue, that can be uncomfortable, and even scary.
I wonder, though, how many white viewers actually do grasp Wilmore's deeper and (for them) newer insights. Is the brief Gawker assessment above of Wilmore -- which takes up only a tiny part of their assessment of this two-part segment -- typically dismissive of black insights like those offered by Wilmore? If so, that wouldn't surprise me. After all, white people, even well-intentioned liberals, aren't used to listening respectfully to black people talking about race. Especially if instead of talking about themselves, they're talking about white people.
The Gawker assessment of this segment was written by Adrian Chen, whose name suggests that he's not white. Nevertheless, I think his assessment of this "Daily Show" segment, in its basic dismissal of what Wilmore actually had to say, reflects a common white reaction to black insights into common white ways.
Also interesting in these terms is the reaction to Wilmore of the show's studio audience (also largely white, I assume, which is not to say that people of color don't also enjoy "The Daily Show"). An especially good line of Wilmore's, for instance, seems to fall on deaf ears ("[Obama's] just suffering from the hard bigotry of high expectations!"). Listening carefully to the laughter and other audience reactions again makes me wonder just how willing, let alone ready, white people in general are to listen to black observations about whiteness. And of course, recent conversations in the comment threads on this blog have made me wonder the same thing. Wilmore is basically functioning as a comedian here, but like many black comics before him (and like Paul Mooney, for example [nsfw], today), he has serious revelations to offer white people about themselves.
Gawker is a popular site; at this writing, a day after that piece on the "Daily Show" was posted, it's already been viewed over 8,000 times. So far, it only has 18 comments, two of which address Wilmore's segment -- how do you read them? Do they seem to be taking Wilmore's serious comedy seriously?
Yeah, it seems lots of people were disappointed that Obama was not the "Magic Negro" that they were hoping for.
Next time, Dems, you need to run Morgan Freeman - he's GOD.
Oh - folks got the sads now 'cause he doesn't have a magic wand to fix everything right away?
Please. His presidency has managed to restore a certain amount of confidence in the US around the world. Eventually, this should be more effective than any Homeland Security regulation imagineable.
I cannot tell a lie. I really thought he was magic.
Damn you, privileged, white upbringing!
Oh wait, there is a fourth comment there, one that I agree with (the part about Wilmore, that is; I don't consider Colbert's satiric persona an annoying one-trick pony):
This Larry Wilmore needs his own show. Sorry, but Colbert is a one trick pony who's act is grating and one dimensional. I want a Wilmore show instead.
But then, if Wilmore did have a show, and he continued to talk to white Americans like this, I don't think it would last very long. That's because white Americans in general aren't ready to listen to a black man's insights into their common ways of being.
[And by the way, again, I'm not saying that people of color don't watch and enjoy "The Daily Show" -- I'm sure many do. I'm interested in common white reactions to it, and especially to Larry Wilmore. I'm also not addressing here Obama's declining popularity more generally, so no comments, please, about what that has to do with his politics, unless your comment clearly has something to do with stuff white people do.]