News that Trevor Noah would replace Jon Stewart as the new host of “The Daily Show” brought a collective round of applause for the South African comedian and his “fresh” perspective and “fresh takes on race.” Critics have long lamented the lack of color among late-night TV hosts, and now a black man has gotten one of the plum hosting gigs.
Noah might look like an enlightened choice, but his routines show he isn’t — his jokes often hinge on insulting African Americans.
Back in 2012, Noah made his first American appearance, on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The bulk of his routine was composed of jokes about black Americans. The United States, he said, was not “the America he was promised,” and “America has the credit of a black man.”
Then Noah joked that black people are misidentified as African Americans. “They’re not African, but we’ll play along,” he said, adding, “Many of them really try to connect with Africa, you know? Some of them have these African names. They’ll be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s my girl Wanda, yeah, yeah. Yeah that’s right, that’s Dashiqua, or dat’s Taniqua.” Noah emphasized all this “hilarity” by using stereotypical B-Boy hand gestures to drive it home — because this is how all black people communicate, obviously. Leno’s predominantly white audience ate it up.
I wasn’t aware Wanda was supposed to be recognized as an African name. Though poet Sha’Condria Sibley recently pointed out in a video that some of our cultural names do have African roots or intentions, attempting to falsify African culture is probably not top of mind for most black parents when choosing names for their children. But regardless, what’s so wrong with wanting to connect with your African roots? And yes, I am African American. I’m an American of African descent. That’s how I define myself, as is my right. Noah finds this to be a source of comedy. Because he continues to separate himself from African Americans by his repeated use of “they” when making fun of us, Noah should go walk around St. Louis or Cleveland. He’d find out quickly that he’s not viewed any differently than us.
The Leno routine was not a one-time incident. Apparently Noah has built a career out of perpetuating unfortunate stereotypes about black people (and others, too; Noah’s Twitter feed also offers some interesting jokes about Jews and women).
In a routine at the Apollo, in front of what appears to be a nearly all-white audience, he talked about learning how to speak “Black American,” offering as an example “fo shizzle my nizzle.” (If a white man had made that joke, Black Twitter would have set him ablaze with sparked fingertips in a litany of “reads” and memes.) In this performance, Noah made a better connection between his ignorance of African American culture and him confusing it with pop culture portrayals. But his introduction to the States was flat-out racist. With the appointment of his new post, it appears America, at least some of it, is loving it.
Some on Twitter have pointed to Eddie Murphy’s infamous “half” routine, in which he said he needed to go to Africa to find a “crazy, naked zebra bitch” for a wife, and Chris Rock’s similar comedy as examples that black comics make fun of African people, too. Marlon Wayans’s insulting comments about African people while he was on stage in Africa hosting an MTV awards show have also been thrown into the mix to demonstrate this point. So? None of this is okay with me. I’ve never understood, frankly, why some African Americans find it okay to disrespect African people.
Although we’re culturally different, I like to believe there is still a deeply rooted thread of connection. And there are actually talented people of color who do smart, evolved material on culture, race and politics that manages not to insult black people. (W. Kamau Bell would have been a perfect choice to replace Stewart.)
It’s all too acceptable to disrespect people of color in this country, especially African Americans, even when you’re also a person of color. Not only did Noah get away with these routines, now he’s being rewarded for them. And the sadder thing is that the next time we have this “there aren’t enough people of color in the late night arena” conversation, people will point to Noah and say, “See, we gave you another one.”
Well, you can keep him. I’d like a conscious person of color at the wheel, not someone who’s already driven me off a racist cliff.