Yesterday, Oliver struck again. In the following skit, he rides the World Cup bandwagon to South Africa, pretending to be a tourist on the hunt for "the good stuff" -- "vintage" racism, in the forms of hardcore bigotry and "real live race riots!"
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart|
The joke here is that although Oliver seems to search high and low, interviewing both black and white people, he just can't find racism anywhere -- "No matter where I looked, I couldn't find a single racist!" Until, that is, he encounters the lunatic, far-right fringe, in the form of a whacky, self-declared white supremacist. Oliver then lets Dan Roodt, an "activist for an all-white, separate nation," spout some ugly nonsense about crime and IQ differences and so on.
The problem with this skit's central joke is that it's based on a false premise. Oliver is playing a fool who doesn't realize something that everyone else supposedly knows, but that something actually isn't true; the skit's false premise is that racism is now effectively dead in South Africa. It's not.
What this skit does, in typical white-liberal fashion, is individualize racism. The far more damaging and insidious form -- institutional racism, a form very much alive in South Africa -- goes ignored.
In 2008, the country's Commission for Employment Equity released the results of a study of institutional racism. The commission's chair, Jimmy Manyi, said then that racism in South Africa "still rages":
"The only difference is that previously it was more overt, but now it has assumed sophisticated forms in day-to-day work practices," Manyi said.
Handing over the annual 2007/2008 report to Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana, Manyi said the "finite data" received from large employers showed the "gross under-representation" of Africans, Coloureds and people with disabilities in the top three levels of management and that Whites dominated.
"Institutional racism continues to reign supreme," he said.
"The actual data we are getting from the companies is telling us that the people who are benefiting from recruitment and promotions in the majority are white," he said.
The report also shows that while South Africa's "Economically Active Population" is about 88% black, their proportion at top management levels in 2007 was only 28.8%. Affirmative Action policies have been in place as a corrective, in terms not only of race, but also disability and gender. However, Manyi said, "Only white women seem to be benefiting disproportionately in terms of this legislation [which allows for affirmative action] and black women are really lagging behind" (the report thus resembles results in the U.S., where the largest beneficiaries of Affirmative Action have also typically been white women).
I often enjoy the more biting satire of "The Daily Show," including that of John Oliver. However, when the topic of race comes up on the show, so do my hackles (though I do think their "Senior Black Correspondent," Larry Wilmore, consistently skewers white racism effectively). Laughing at hardcore racists might work to further marginalize them, but it's also a way of ignoring more refined, significant, and damaging forms of racism.