It’d be an understatement to say the last few weeks have been emotional. Since Donald Trump was elected president, it seems the world has begun to crumble. The way sand cliffs slide into the sea, we’ve known it would happen at some point, but to watch it before our eyes evokes a spellbinding horror.
First there was the initial shock and panic. Then there was the rather abrupt validation and normalization of the means and mentality Trump used to get where he now is. This, for millions of people, resulted in another wave of shock and panic. We’ve clung even tighter to each other and we’re reaching out to anyone with a microphone to ease our terror and relieve our fears… and what better way than with a laugh? If we can laugh – just for a second – won’t everything be okay?
I found myself either on Twitter or watching Colbert and Trevor Noah constantly for the first week or so after the election. Out of the three, twitter has been the most therapeutic. Sadly, as I get older, I see that the Colbert I once idolized is… nothing more than a rich white man with an impressive amount of liberal enthusiasm.
And then there’s Trevor.
“Trevor Noah faces off with Tomi Lahren on The Daily Show” read the headline on my feed four days ago. I was just waking up and the words caught my attention.
Yesssss. I thought.
When Trevor Noah took over the Daily Show, I felt a flurry of emotions. I was deeply disappointed that the position wasn’t given to Jessica Williams, a young Black Californian with bold humor, brilliant comedic timing, and a bubbly smile. She started off as the Daily Show’s youngest correspondent, and remained their brightest.
But while I was let down that Comedy Central didn’t go for the obvious pick, I was happy that they picked Trevor Noah. Not only is he someone other than another white guy, but he’s a mixed-Black South African. I thought his position in the African Diaspora would bring a fresh perspective to a lot of the issues surrounding us right now. Jon Stewart did a decent job in recognizing his privilege and using his platform to shine light and shame onto different social issues. Clearly, a Black man would only drive these sentiments further. For Trevor Noah to take Jon Stewart’s place excited me because he gives the show the potential to get even sharper and more confrontational.
Or so I thought.
As I clicked the link hovering under the headline, I was excited to see this “face off”. I wasn’t just hopeful that Trevor would confront Tomi Lahren — the young racist whose hate goes viral time and time again — I was expecting it.
But that’s not what happened. And that’s why we need to talk about the politics of beauty in a white supremacy.
Let’s talk about Tomi Lahren.
Tomi Lahren, I’m sorry to tell you, is someone I actually had to take time to google. The first time I saw her was a few months ago on facebook. She was in a video spewing anti-feminist garbage into my ears. I could smell her breath through the screen.. It smelled like internalized-sexism. I looked at her and felt sad. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a great smile, a thin body… The all-American girl. A waste. Little did I know those videos would result in her own show on television.
And that’s where we go from beauty to politics.
Tomi Lahren has the face that Americans, regardless of race, have been conditioned to humanize in ways unimaginable for anyone not white, thin, and “pretty”. She’s the one we’ve watched our whole lives play the protagonist or the protagonist’s reward. Our society has always given her the space and the platform to express herself.
You imagine she was on the cheerleading team. You can see her out horseback riding. Even when she calls for the deportation of millions of people, the justification of Black murder, and enthusiasm for the patrolling and registering of Muslim people.
It is vital the we recognize her vast reach didn’t happen spontaneously and it isn’t surprising. Despite what you may think of her personally, her face is one we’ve attached to the epitome of beauty. And the power of that beauty in a white supremacy is a platform on national television and an appearance on one of the most popular liberal shows on television… The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Tomi Lahren can’t help what she looks like, but when she uses her power to reach millions of people with messages of xenophobia and racism, this becomes our problem. Because right now, from Donald Trump to Brexit, we are watching these beliefs turn to policy, and we need to confront the oppression with a swift and sharp “Cut the bullshit”.
That was Trevor Noah’s job.
Instead, he brought her onto his show and spent almost 30 minutes “confronting” her in a way that left an alarming taste in my mouth. I wanted to love it. I wanted to cheer for it. Initially, I did. But the next day, the taste was still there… I watched the video again.
First I noticed his body language. He seemed sheepish. He didn’t make strong eye contact and looked off toward the ground while “confronting her”. But his confrontations had no provocation and demanded no real accountability, on the contrary, they were soft attempts to mentor her. It reminded me of one of Obama’s weak speeches in his failed attempts to “reason” with Republicans. Noah never actually pressed her on how dangerous her beliefs are, or what the real implications those beliefs will have on millions of Americans. Instead he asks her to clarify them. Yes. Trevor Noah, the man I’ve been watching to wrap my mind around the chaos, gave Lahren free airtime to belch more racist propaganda. And he never seemed to really pin her.
In fact, when she falsely (but confidently) proclaimed that “Black men are 18.5x more likely to shoot a cop than a cop to shoot a black man! Those are statistics no one wants to talk about!”, Noah responded not by calling her bluff or demanding a source, but a fussy “Let’s move on to, like, the mainstream media.” A complete pass topped with “Because this is interesting. You’ve won.”
I was flabbergasted. Hurt. Overwhelmed. And my disenchantment only grew.
Both parties made statements on twitter thanking each other. Tomi said she had a “great time” while Noah tweeted she is “always welcome” on his show.
Then they went out for drinks. Thanks TMZ.
Uhh.. no thank you.
This is where we see the depth of this issue. The network put a pretty white girl in a tight black dress in front of a Black guy and they both fell right into character. He softened his approach to the point of barely being able to look at her and she ate it up and then went out for drinks afterwards. This was spun as “destroying bubbles” and “respecting common goals”, but really this was two people who fell into a very typical narrative because they will never actually feel the blunt effects of the things they were discussing. They both would probably agree that they simply had drinks the same way they both agreed that they simply had opposing views.
As Tomi said, and Noah RTd:
Except you’re not “people with opposing views”. One person has an opinion that has the potential to ruin millions of lives. The other is defending their humanity. Or at least that’s what he was supposed to do?
Unless it’s not at all.
The opposite of someone trying to kill you (or justify your death) is not to convince them not to. It’s fight or flight. Considering most marginalized people in America do not have the privilege to pack up and leave the borders soon to be governed by a Trump administration, that leaves one option.
Our job is not to use a bigot’s argument against our humanity to convince them to have drinks with us. Our job is to fight for our humanity’s tangible recognition in this society.
I’m ashamed to have ever been proud that Trevor Noah was given a microphone to speak for me. He never has. He never will. This is just a show for Noah. These are just topics to spit a couple jokes at and make a million bucks. At the end of the day, his identity as a South African doesn’t make him more connected to our struggle, but even less attached. He can sit for 30 minutes and listen to flaming racism without the slightest visceral reaction. Rather, he opted to freely spend more time across from that same person, privately.
So fine… I’ve just spent 1200 words railing. What would a successful confrontation have looked like then?
Let me introduce you to Darletta Scruggs.
Darletta Scruggs is an active member of the Socialist Alternative movement. She was invited onto Fox a few months ago to “discuss the success of the second #MillionStudentMarch day of action against Trump, racism and student debt.”
But when watching the discussion unfold between two people from polar opposites of the political spectrum, one notices how differently Scruggs navigates the conversation with a white man than Lahren did with a Noah.
This is what a face off looks like. This is confrontation. This is preparation and execution. This is Darletta Scruggs.
As a young Black Woman, Darletta is not protected by the privilege of white womanhood. The network didn’t put her in a little black anything. While Tomi Lahren regurgitated the same old poisonous rhetoric she’s gotten famous with, Scruggs was well-prepared to defend her views with nuanced contexts. Scruggs is not perceived as a dainty hometown girl with a little bite. She is not perceived as powerlessly naive needing only a strong man to guide her back to safety. Darletta is seen through the lens of whiteness that ties her words — that express a desire for the basic opportunities offered by other countries around the West — to being angry, loud, aggressive, unrealistic.
And she knows it.
That is precisely why she does not let the white man across from her use those tactics to derail the discussion that he is unprepared for. She does not let him gaslight her. She does not let him throw false facts or erase connections between issues. She holds him to a level of accountability that leads him to one conclusion: Agreeing with her.
He is forced to recognize the limits of his arguments. He is forced to recognize that hers go beyond, and the society waiting at the end of her views will be better for everyone.
In 7 minutes, Darletta Scruggs got a white man to acknowledge the necessity of change on his part.
After 30 minutes, can we say the same happened with Trevor Noah?
To add insult to injury, since I’ve begun writing this piece cishet Black men have only gone further in their quest to save Missie Anne. Tomi Lahren was scheduled to appear on the Breakfast Club, which she cancelled, then went out with Charlemagne privately. Afterwards, he took to social media to lambast Women of Color for our lack of media presence, as though it isn’t directly connected to our marginalization in this white supremacist society.. he ended by comparing our could-be success to a platform that looks like Tomi’s.
Holy motherfucking yuck.
We will be free when everyone is free. Despite our differences, that’s the common goal our lives depend on… If Black men want to be a part of creating that world, their job is to amplify Black Women and Queer Black people, not elevate Becky. Come on, man. This struggle is loud. It’s intersectional. It’s unapologetic. To use this conversation to sleep with the enemy is not only offensive, it’s dangerous.
When cishet Black men are strong enough to sit across from Becky and deliver like Darletta Scruggs, then we can have a conversation. When they take ice cubes to their dicks before throwing Black Women under the bus for Becky is the day we can maybe work together for freedom and equity. Until then, stop stepping on us to get closer to a white girl from South Dakota.
This whole thing is gross.