The decision to have Trevor Noah host The Daily Show is not really a surprising one to me. I like Trevor Noah, I’ve seen him perform live and I’ve watched his stand-up “African-American” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3043546/). He’s a comedian and he manages to make me laugh. So, yeah. I like him.
Not to take away from his talents, but Trevor’s appointment to The Daily Show is just as much about social politics as it is about his talents (Like how I just jump right in, huh?) The Daily Show is so popular in part because of Stewart’s ability to discuss American racism in a comedic, and meaningful (from a White liberal standpoint) but personally detached manner. Since Stewart is White and male, the way he approaches race in comedy is considered the standard & ideal way to present the material (as opposed to say, Paul Mooney, who is considered polarizing.) Because Noah is biracial and African- and therefore more removed from the American legacy of slavery and institutionalized racism than a Black American- it is assumed that he will handle race just as “objectively” as Stewart. Let’s be honest, here. Racism is a very real issue but it is also a very real money-making and entertaining issue (see the all-new American Crime show that magically appeared recently) so it’s crucial for The Daily Show to get that ingredient just right in its formula for success and Noah fits the bill. He is funny, bi-racial and African. A “safe” Black. Black, but not “too Black”. (Digression: I feel the same way about Key & Peele. Both funny men, wildly popular…and biracial. Interestingly, W. Kamau Bell did not have the same success even though his witty commentary on race was of a similar tone as Key & Peele’s. His White wife and biracial child-a fact he never let the audience forget and was quick to highlight within the first few episodes-wasn’t enough to give him “safe” Black status.)
If I’m right about this “objective”, “safe” lane Noah will be expected to stay in as host of The Daily Show, then Houston, we have a problem. His approach on American racism will become the gold standard for how the country wants to engage with Black people on race- funny and detached, like Stewart. And Black American outrage will end up socially marginalized and derided…again. It will be portrayed as being “too emotional” and “too serious”. I mean, where’s the fun in racism when you’re always protesting and whatnot? Booo.
Now, granted, this may be a stretch, but I also foresee Noah’s South African heritage being used to position South African apartheid as the important talking point on race. Not with the intention of providing a meaningful lesson on South African politics and history, making global connections on racism, or problem solving, but to give the predominately White audience of The Daily Show the simulated feeling of dealing with a “race topic” without having to do the heavy lifting of fixing that good ol’-apple pie- homegrown-U.S.of A.- style racism. This could – intentionally or unintentionally – end up aggravating any divisions and tensions between African folks and Black American folks. And we’re left clawing each other’s eyes out, meanwhile racism and White supremacy goes totally unchecked and unchallenged – both here and abroad – sneaking off like a thief in the night.
Of course, I could be wrong about all this. Or Trevor may not play it safe (and that decision will of course come with a whole ton of crap. He’s already been scrutinized for some Tweets from a year ago http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/03/31/396601389/trevor-noah-jon-stewarts-replacement-goes-from-hero-to-villain-in-24-hours). But I do know one thing – the machine is going to do what the machine is going to do in order to maintain the pretense of progress while staunchly maintaining the status quo. I am not mad at Trevor Noah for getting his and making his mark in the comedy world. And I know one thing, I’m damn tired of having no other option but to endure hearing about some other Black male comedian using Black women as their punchline to turn a buck. As far as I know Noah hasn’t done that…yet. So, it’s nice to have options. But I hope that he understands that if he is not cautious and hip to game, he will be used as a pawn to serve a particular purpose and once that purpose ends – and he’s left holding the bag to deal with the fallout – we will look around in the aftermath and find that despite all the laughter and thought-provoking punchlines, not one damn solitary thing has changed. So, to Trevor Noah I would say this: The world is watching. Do like Chappelle. Play the system but don’t let the system play you.
image: By The White House from Washington, DC (P102710PS-0604) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons