Alot has been written and discussed about race relations in this country since the tragic terrorist attack in Charleston, South Carolina last week. It’s easy to get caught up in the plethora of information and opinions that have circulated — the same happens with most issues in today’s age. However, this only adds to the overarching story that has been happening for as long as I can remember. Usually, routine sets in, proving that there is outrage, then confusion. Deniers come forward and force the discussion which leads to more outrage, followed by everyone going to their corners and getting in the vacuum that fits their perception of the narrative.
It appeared as if the same flow of events was about to set course. People were gearing up to run the same tired excuses of denial that have kept this country from truly achieving the greatness a large percentage of the population believes is fact. But then something different happened. Jon Stewart went on the air the night of the tragedy and didn’t tell jokes as usual — he laid down the truth, without holding back, and told the country how it was. It was a heartbreaking truth, delivered from an unassuming source. In less than ten minutes, Stewart opened the door to what he — and a lot of comedians from Louis C.K. to Chris Rock have been telling us for a long time. People just weren’t listening.
Listening back to the routines of comedians since the Civil Rights Movement, you can see a trend of them always seeing what is finally becoming visible to people like Mitt Romney — who, once again, called for taking down the confederate battle flag from government buildings, calling it ” a symbol of racial hatred.” Soon after, Republican Jeb Bush said it belonged in a museum. Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, Bill Maher; the list of comedians who have been on top of this issue for decades goes on and on. People were either too busy not understanding that the bits the comics were doing are a fictional exaggeration of very real events or getting offended by their delivery and subject matter. It’s difficult for Americans to separate reality from a character, especially in comics who use their real name. Tell a redneck fan of Larry the Cable Guy that his name is actually a guy named Dan Whitney and he’s from Nebraska, and they will tell you that you’re crazy. Try getting NASCAR fans to understand that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay were making fun of them in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rickey Bobby and they will call you stupid.
A lot of people will probably say, “of course the black comedians are griping about racism,” but it’s important to note that many black comedians have white writers who see what was, and still is, happening in the country and relaying that in a comical form. Satire is extremely effective in showing faults.
This is why Jon Stewart made such an impact on the reality of so many with his Thursday night monologue. He was in the perfect position to make an impact — with only six weeks left in his tenure as host of The Daily Show and completely slaying the Donald Trump announcement for president the previous two evenings, his ratings were up. People were watching. And he didn’t try to make light of the fact that this was indeed a race driven terrorist attack and assassination of a South Carolina state senator, in the oldest black church in the Deep South. He just said it how it was. Since then, everything the comedians of the past have been saying about the subject started to make sense to a lot of the country who have either been denying or not wanting to see what is happening.
Sure, there are going to be a lot of people who don’t want to admit to themselves what this was. Sure, there are a lot of people who don’t watch this kind of comedy, nor do they understand it. However, when you see Russell Moore — the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptists Convention — calling for the confederate flag to be taken down, something has finally gotten through. And it’s the comedians who are leading the charge.
It is going to take more than this to get us through this, but at least the conversation is happening. Whether you want to admit that there is a problem with systemic racism in this country or not, it is there. This travesty is a manifestation of a reality that is getting impossible to deny. Unfortunately, it has taken something so direct to hit us in the face in order for us to come to our senses. But, it has always been there. The comedians have been telling us for a long time, we just were too busy being entertained or getting offended to actually listen to what they were saying.