For about five days now there has been a string of back and forth admonishments towards, as well as virtual pledges of allegiance to, Bill Maher because of yet another in an infinite string of purposefully inflammatory and “ambiguously” racist comments that he has made over the years.
But because Maher is aligned with so-called liberals and progressives, some of the most forward thinking black academics, comedians and entertainers have come out in support of Maher. Now, this is the very same Bill Maher that fellow comedian, entertainer and television host Wayne Brady had a major issue with after Maher was disrespectful and privilege-tainted enough to believe that he had more insight into what it was to be black than Brady – a darkskinned brother who grew up in the Compton, California in the 80s and early 90s.
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But that’s not the only time he flexed his sideways, slick talking in-the-name-of incendiary commentary. At one time, perhaps 15 years ago or so, I actually believed the hype that said Maher was an edgy comedian looking to push the boundaries of our collective comfort zone. But at some point I realized I wasn’t witnessing acerbic comedy for the sake of discourse but a narcissistic man who can’t see past his own hypocrisy and bigotry.
Currently the list of black personalities have come out in defense of Maher, as they understandably would, is filled “woke” black folks. Maher has spoken out against racists and conservatives throughout the duration of his career and has given valuable airtime to the some black folks that may not have gotten it elsewhere; Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, comedian D.L. Hughley, Dr. Cornell West and many others have been on the show. However, his overall history is littered with instances of his white privilege emanating from his every word like candlelight through a sheer curtain. Indeed, the veneer maybe that of a liberal but these following soundbytes might be a better indication of his true self than anything else he has said in favor of racial or gender equality.
Instances of severe Islamphobia and racism:
Since 9/11, Bill Maher has devoted himself to mainstreaming the toxic narrative of Islamophobia. With a captive audience of millions, the support of a major cable network, and a steady stream of celebrity guests, including no shortage of self-styled progressives, Maher has largely succeeded in his goal.
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Like many middle-aged white male liberals, Maher frequently vacillates back and forth between opposite poles while maintaining his allegiance to one. In this instances he claims liberalism, but his seemingly infinite number of sneak disses, overt lambasting of progressive ideas and straight up stereotypically white American viewpoints on race, religion and gender belies the political and societal position he claims to represent. Despite this, a slew of blacks have come to his defense.
As a numeric minority in the United States, African-Americans are uniquely disadvantaged on a number of fronts. When it comes to operating and excelling in the mainstream, be it in a business, governmental, entertainment or religious capacity, the pickings are slim as far as true allies are concerned. Those pickings are even slimmer when it comes to powerful allies.
Make no mistake, Bill Maher is a powerful ally to have and because he’s powerful black folks who wish to be allied with him are forced to swallow his Islamophobia, his racist jokes and his gleefully misogynist position on women. He does this all while hiding behind free speech and a thin guise of liberalism.
Today, many black folks are defending his right to use the n-word because black people use it — a stupid defense to be certain — while others are claiming hypocrisy due to our acceptance of it from rappers.
It doesn’t take a historian to note that the n-word had been used liberally by black comedians and entertainers long before hip-hop ever emerged. Additionally, most people of African descent whose family members suffered under slavery had roots in the south where many anthropologists believe the word was first coined in America and used to disparage black people.
Anyone who is so inclined can trace the use of the word, as well as its meaning when coined by white people. As living beings adapt we have a peculiar way of manipulating our respective environments to best suit our needs. Our ancestors were hearing the n-word so much that it was internalized and made a part of us, for better or worse. This is similar to how other races and subgroup use terms that were meant to disparage those populations in ways that are counter to the term’s original intent.
I’ve heard Asian folks use the term “chink” toward one another. I’ve heard women call each other bitches. I’ve heard the term “mic”, originally a derogatory term used against the Irish, used ad nauseum by white people. But the n-word is controversial in part because of its history and because of its present place in American pop culture by way of the African American subculture that currently is using it in a manner opposite of how it was originally intended.
Now that the term has become increasingly used in the everyday lexicon by whites via black, urban and hip-hop culture it falls under the auspices of freedom of speech – and it’s obvious that it does. But there’s a reason why people get fired for playing around with racial slurs used against other groups. It’s the same reason why every white or Mexican hack you can think of tries to sprinkle in the n-word and winds up inciting controversy among many American blacks. It’s because we know that a large percentage of white Americans would love to use the n-word for their own purposes and history tells us those purposes are never good for black people.
It’s not about the word! It’s about respect!
That’s why I didn’t like the fact that Bill Maher felt comfortable saying it on live television. But the thing that makes me give him a double-barreled middle finger is the fact that he KNOWS he shouldn’t have said it but said it anyway. Why? Lack of respect. Bill Maher thinks everyone is beneath him, especially people of color. He has illustrated this over and over again. When are we going to stop being surprised when racists keep revealing themselves as racist? Perhaps when black people lay out a demarcation line of respect that is uniform instead of bickering among ourselves as to the validity of an “ally” who feels respecting black people is optional.
But if I have to settle for a disrespectful ally then I’d rather not have any at all.