Trevor Noah’s Interview With Tomi Lahren Was A White Liberal Wet Dream

“Do you feel that your job is to transform yourself into someone as unthreatening as possible?” Last month, a New York Times journalist posed this question to Trevor Noah who admitted he “wasn’t expecting liberal hatred” when he signed on to replace Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show. After Noah¬†confessed that after fans of Stewart had been hateful toward him as the new host, he went on to explain how he “had to quell that feeling that people have lost what is theirs.”

That interview illustrated why I was never much of a fan of Stewart or The Daily Show. I have never trusted anti-racist work done or orchestrated by white liberals, particularly when that work is done in the capacity of a gig on national television. White comedians¬†being paid handsomely to tell other white people all the ways in which they casually perpetuate and promote racism is not my idea of aggressively working¬†to deconstruct a centuries-old racial caste system. Simply, white liberal commitment to the liberation of marginalized groups, most relevantly Black people, most often¬†centers¬†white feelings, rendering¬†any would be meaningful commentary¬†virtually useless once it has been contorted and edited¬†to ensure its delivery doesn’t offend those who benefit most from the system it’s meant¬†to critique.

In that way, The Daily Show seems like the manifestation of the¬†white liberal wet dream, combining just enough controversy to make the overt conservative racists seethe while never really forcing any real conversation about the covert — even if subconscious — racism liberals purvey, keeping them satisfied that they’ve done their part to combat racism.¬†It’s a dream where the star is less important than the script.¬†Sure, Stewart was the familiar and preferred¬†lead, but so long as Noah follows the script, he fits comfortably into the role, aided by the kind of palatable Blackness — light,¬†attractive and well-spoken — that white liberals love.

That dream came to a squirting climax last week when Noah hosted wildly popular conservative personality¬†Tomi Lahren on his¬†show. For nearly half an hour, the two¬†chatted¬†as Noah confronted Lahren about¬†likening the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku¬†Klux¬†Klan¬†and repeatedly pressed her to tell the audience “the right way” for Black people to protest¬†the extrajudicial killings of unarmed Black citizens. The mild debate was the anti-thesis to the insult-laden screaming matches usually seen on the shows of Fox personalities like Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly, as the two remained calm, Noah cooly and¬†subtly pointing out the flaws in Lahren’s arguments with quips like, “What do you do at a traffic light?” in response to Lahren saying she doesn’t see color.

Since the interview aired, liberal mainstream news sites have lauded Noah’s handling of Lahren.¬†The Atlantic¬†proclaimed¬†that Noah¬†“was measured, respectful, and challenging,” admitting that¬†although “the interview didn‚Äôt find much common ground, it was an encouraging, intelligent step forward for Noah as he charts a course for his show in the coming year.”¬†Vox¬†called Noah’s approach “a thoughtful invasion, a methodical exploration behind enemy lines.” Noah himself penned a piece for¬†The¬†New York¬†Times¬†in which he made it clear that his goal is to find common ground with his opponents in effort to make mutual progress, saying “there is an idea that moderation and compromise are simply a prelude to selling out and giving up, when in fact the opposite is true ‚ÄĒ moderation brings radical ideas to the center to make them possible.”

If Noah’s goal is truly as he says, to come to a happy medium, then it fits in seamlessly with he kind white liberal ideology I loathe. To¬†be fair Noah, employed by a white network and supported largely by a white liberal audience, must play their game. But that fact only further¬†demonstrates that any anti-racist work done by white liberals¬†must be done on their terms. That work then becomes less¬†about deconstructing the systems that oppress¬†Black and brown people than it is about white¬†liberals¬†staking out the moral high ground over their conservative counterparts.¬†

So while Noah’s subtle shade toward Lahren may have been amusing, it did nothing more than push the notion that¬†racist opposition to Black liberation efforts is a merely a difference¬†of¬†opinion and can be¬†debated calmly and respectfully.¬†Noah,¬†as a biracial Black man whose celebrity and popularity provide a layer of insulation from the life-threatening violence many Black Americans contend with daily, may be able to afford that luxury, but the masses of Black people without the kind of visibility and class privilege he wields cannot. Eyebrow raising and blank stares into the camera bring ratings as¬†the studio¬†audience howls at how cleverly the host trips up his guest, but what does that accomplish? Preaching to the choir has never changed anything.

So long as we continue to pretend that the work of dissolving the system that¬†functions to benefit white people can ever be done successfully with white people at the helm, friendly debate will enough. There doesn’t seem any real effort to change but rather a continuous campaign to assure Black people that there are some decent white people. There is no middle ground. ¬†There is no¬†compromise suitable to the victims of ongoing genocide.¬†Full humanity is not something Black people have the obligation to earn by kindly and respectfully debating our right to live freely.

pan style="font-size: 12pt;">Noah is¬†immersed¬†in¬†the kind of whiteness of that repudiates the Klan but still locks the car door when a Black man walk past. He is paid and promoted by liberal left whiteness that is as necessary to maintaining the status quo as the fuming, slur-hurling racism of the right. He is their “I Have a [Wet] Dream” moment.

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