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Two Words Secretly Holding Us Back

I’ve never been a fan of Larry Wilmore Past 3 Minutes. I understand he believes this means I am part of the problem, part of why his show shuttered. According to Wilmore, the show was always going to fight an uphill battle because “white people don’t like to hear about race for too long.” Ignoring the possibility that his topical show just wasn’t engaging or funny – expanded too far past his cogent 180-second satirizations on The Daily Show – the statement turned me against him. No, not the erroneous assumption that white people don’t want a full show about race – correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Chappelle leave when “white people” liked his show too much? – but rather I am annoyed at the use of “white people” in this context at all.

Larry Wilmore would have you believe that because minorities bear the unjust end of race relations, his show would only be captivating to them. Any difficulties that “white people” encounter with race relations are trivial and uncomfortable, since their rights are not actively violated on a daily basis. Which puts “white people”, such as myself, in a sort of helix where each opinion about the white side of race relations is followed by the acknowledgment that the other side has it much harder and that I could never understand what black people have to go through. It goes on in this way, in a given sentence, for so long that it ends up meaning nothing at all. It’s just a series of hedging clauses with well-meaning statements buried between.

But this is not the problem I wish to address –  although it is pertinent, overall. The problem is that Larry, unlike Chappelle, could never have had an intelligent and sustainable show with a quote like that to explicate its ultimate demise. Larry wants to paint with 140 colors of high-grade paint, using advanced techniques and careful consideration, when it comes to the portrait of the black struggle in America. The white people that put them down, however, are just the blank canvas. I think he did this, absent of any more exculpatory clauses, because there is a reason that all black people should be mad. They were enslaved because of their skin. There were separate bathrooms because of their skin. And they are targeted by the cops because of their skin. That is a reality. But there is no such inverse reality to tie one white person to the next. Privilege, yes, insofar as white people do not suffer the same injustices as black people. But privilege does not make white people white together in the same way that injustice makes black people black together. Part of the reason that there are so many white people is because of how many we questionably include as “white”. If you are: American, Canadian, Italian, French, German, Swedish, Swiss, Scottish, Danish, Irish, British, South African, Australian, a Kiwi, Jewish, Dutch, Russian, etc… there’s a large chance the rest of the world first sees you as white, even though “white” is not who you really are and has little bearing on your interests.

All this is to say, the “white people” grouping that Wilmore uses doesn’t work. For example, if black culture like hip-hop arose out of rebellion, then TF is “white culture” – postmodernism? And in many cases, this is a total non-issue. Yes, “white people” typically like Panera. And Dave Matthews. And whatever the fuck a “Malibu wine safari” is. But in serious matters, the best case scenario for nationalities being united under a white umbrella is that we collectively want justice. Otherwise, it’s as though “whiteness” only exists as a contrast to the black experience. And it’s not entirely incorrect. But are we going anywhere better under those terms? Is it an outlet of rage that Wilmore is seeking, or results?

I think Wilmore’s worldview was a detriment to race relations. The unabashed willingness to use “white people” while rightly castigating people who broadly used “black people” was a waste of a rare opportunity, better left to someone who turns shoulder chips into conversation.

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About the Author

Chris O'Toole (Colorado State '12, Chapman '15) recently finished a Screenwriting MFA. He has written for Livestrong, CBS, and other publications. Love, hate, and job offers can be sent to: otool102@mail.chapman.edu