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Saturday, June 10, 2017

I'm a fan of Bill Maher


I am a fan of Bill Maher. 

Yes, he's crass and vulgar but he's also politically astute and fearless in exposing hypocrisy in all its many and varied forms - political, religious, governmental, financial, personal, etc.  - and on all sides of the political spectrum - Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

I also appreciate the fact that it is dangerous to stand at the intersection of political commentary and humor. But, Maher doesn't just stand there. He dances - "like a special kind of monkey" - as he describes comedians. He pushes the boundaries of the intersections. 

He's got "ovaries". Or, as my favorite friends in New Jersey would say, "cojones". He makes me think, opening places in my mind with humor that I wouldn't be able to access otherwise.

I was a fan before he said the "n" word last week. 
I am even more a fan after last night's show.

He invited three African Americans to "school him behind the woodshed" on race: Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, actor-rapper Ice Cube, and Symone Sanders, a Democratic strategist and former press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

That was after his sincere apology. He also apologized again - and again - and again, to each of the three guests as well as his viewing audience in general and African-Americans in particular. That took enormous courage and integrity. I admire him for that because that set up an opportunity for everyone in his audience to learn along with him.

Yes, what Maher said was racist but he, himself, is not a "racist".  It is important to understand the subtle, often unseen influence of white privilege - especially as more and more of us have deeper, more intimate relationships and friendships with people of color.

No matter how hard we try, there are some experiences we simply do not share - and there are some words that hold those experiences that we can not understand and must never use.

I recently spent some time with two white men - one older, one younger - who are strong allies in the movement for reproductive health, rights, choice and justice. 
 
They insisted that we should clear the slate and all get on board working for "reproductive justice". 
How white and male of them, right?

Some of us took it upon ourselves to "school" them about the unique movement for reproductive justice which was begun by Black women as the framework from which they work for reproductive freedom. (Google "Sister Song" for a history of this movement and the framework from which it works for reproductive freedom).

It's easy enough to do. We're part of the movement for reproductive freedom. We're working for justice in sme form. So, it's easier to say, "reproductive justice", right? 

And, it certainly doesn't prohibit white women and men and women and men of other races and cultures to work with and for organizations like Sister Song.
 
Some of us are working on different frames for that freedom.  It's important to honor and respect our differences. It's what helps us work better together. 

Some of us come at it from the issue of health, emphasizing the particular health needs of women and our bodies. Others come to the issue from the perspective of rights, working the legal implications of the moral autonomy of women. 
 
Still others - mostly white women who stand on their societal perspective of privilege as white women - insist that the issue is that of choice. 
 
Women of color, who have to struggle for bodily sovereignty and moral autonomy in concert with the struggle against the formidable foes of racism and sexism and all other forms of oppression, have their own framework.

We must honor and include all these four frames and the places where they intersect. We are stronger when we do that. We can not - must not, should not - appropriate language that belongs to others - especially people of color.

In listening to last night's program, it became clear to me that Maher's "accidental racism" came not from a place of bad or evil intent but of the assumption of privilege. 
 
"What made you think you could use that word?" asked Ice Cube. 
 
"I used it without thinking," said Maher. 

"Some people get too familiar and they cross the line," said Ice Cube. "That's our word and you can't have it back."

I can't imagine a clearer depiction of white male privilege than that. 

(You can watch segments of the program here, )

When the news hit the fan last week, there were good, white, liberal folk who called for Maher's immediate firing. 
 
The apology was not enough for them. They conflated their disdain for Maher's brand of humor with their disdain for racism and called for his dismissal, thereby killing two birds with one stone. 
 
I get that. I disagree - I don't think it's right - but I get it.

It's the "holier-than-thou" components of the liberal spectrum which concern me the most. In my estimation, they are no different from the extreme other end of the spectrum on the right. 

In their chants all over social media, from "Bill Maher is a Racist" to "Fire Bill Maher" I distinctly heard echos of "Lock her up."
 
There is absolutely NO conversation with these folk - on the Right or on the Left. It's hard, you know, when you're sitting on your high horse to allow yourself to come down and talk with folk who hold different perspectives.

What really distresses me is that these righteous Liberals hide behind their good intentions and Christianity to defend and define themselves against those on the radical right. 
 
It doesn't work. Not with me. It's too important to them to be seen as a politically correct uber-Christian with zero tolerance for prejudice. 

It's interesting to me that people of color are willing to demand accountablility while simultaneously offering forgiveness and seizing the opportunity to use a "teachable moment" - which Maher was obviously not only willing to experience in full public view but requested and used all of his resources to achieve.

We could learn alot by keeping our mouths shut and listening more and learning from people of color and people who are otherwise oppressed. As my blessed grandmother would say, "There's a reason you have two ears and only one mouth."

First thing: Stop appropriating language. And cultural or religious expressions. And, dress. And, land.
 
Anyone who actually watched Bill Maher's show last night knows that he did not get a "pass". 
 
It is clear that racism is still with us - will probably always be with us - and that racism is enhanced at the intersection of all the other prejudices, especially white privilege. 
 
If you were watching and paying attention last night, you might have learned something about Maher's integrity -  as well as your own. 

There were hard lessons to be learned in last night's program, some of which made me embarrassed at my own "benign ignorance" and others which made me laugh - right out loud - at myself and the human condition.

Which is why I'm still a fan of Bill Maher.

2 comments:

George Waite said...

Church is boring.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, hi, George. I wondered where you were. Up to your old trolling tricks again, I see. I didn't publish the other comments you made. They were not your best. Trolls are so boring.