Earlier today W. Kamau Bell posted the following to his Facebook page, sharing it on Twitter as a screenshot soon after.
Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race, Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.” Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, I don’t care if you had no plans to vote for Trump or anybody, if you are white, he is your problem above all else. Simply put, white people, come get your boy.
I wanted very badly to agree with all of the above because I do think Donald Trump is a problem, and a symptom (and symbol) of a much larger and ultimately more dangerous problem. I cannot, however, fully agree with Kamau on this, and when I tweeted my disagreement, hijinks ensued.
I want to address more specifically what troubles me about Kamau’s Facebook post, but first some tweets to establish the background.
In a followup tweet to another user by Kamau:
To which I replied:
This broke down further into mutual accusations of irony failure and people noting that Muslims have condemned ISIS. My reply to one of the relevant condemnation tweets:
It should suffice to say that I find all those sample statements I tweeted equally offensive. Fortunately another Twitter user came along with a bit of levity (something for which I am always thankful).
It even occurred to me to tweet to Kamau this, from the Quran, as it’s both poetic and strangely relevant. (Thanks to Yahia Lababidi for having tweeted this piece of verse earlier.) “And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden, and if one heavily laden calls another to (bear) his load, nothing of it will be lifted even though he be near of kin.”
Though I was no longer participating in the debate by this point, I think think peak obnoxiousness may have been reached here:
This tweet cuts to the heart of the matter best. I think Kamau’s original post can be understood as both comedy and activism, given Kamau is both a comedian and an activist. If I read the post purely as comedy it’s easy to have a chuckle and move on. If I read the post as activism I question its wisdom of its apparent hypocrisy given the climate in which we (whether we’re white or otherwise, but mostly white) are making demands of persecuted minorities. (Obviously whites are not a persecuted minority, though I’m sure Trump’s followers would have us all believe whites are. Make American White Again!)
Another way to think about the comedy/activism framework is to ask: does the post expose hypocrisy or engage in it? A lighter read suggests the former, (a la an article at The Onion, say) but a more serious read leans toward the latter.
And if the post is satire, does it punch up or down? Given the post is aimed at whites, the privileged majority, the post certainly punches up. That much at least is to its credit.
Even so, I feel most like what has happened here is Kamau has violated the Golden Rule. As I tweeted earlier, it’s not fair to claim not wanting to be essentialized, stripped of individuality and agency, and then do the same to others. And what is perhaps more troublesome is when people of goodwill who want the same things do this to each other, out of an overbearing loyalty to identity politics. I posted the following tweet to Kamau, asking, if he had an opportunity, to read the thread surrounding it.
I follow W. Kamau Bell on Twitter because I admire his work as both a comedian and an activist, despite my relative lack of exposure to what he does. (Regrettably, I’ve only seen a few episodes of the short-lived talk show Totally Biased.) My criticism of his Facebook post, both on Twitter and here, is offered out of respect rather than a lack of it. Twitter is, as is typical, a poor medium to express oneself with sufficient depth, and lacking the time to further engage I brought the rest of my thoughts here. I don’t know as Kamau will see this post, but if he does I hope the clarification helps.
As for the original directive, I think I’m willing to go along. I, as a white person, disavow Donald Trump. He is most certainly an embarrassment to me and other white folks. More importantly, what he represents, a growing fascistic fervor, is dangerous to everyone who isn’t both white and a willing participant in that fervor. Trump, and the growing fascism in the US, need to be stopped. I’ll do what I can, little though it may be. I’ll start by offering a link to an excellent dissection by John Scalzi: Eight Things About Donald Trump.
My thanks to W. Kamau Bell and the Twitter users with whom I spoke. As much as Twitter can seem limiting I’ve also found it to be a fine place to learn and share. Today’s conversation, in spite of getting a touch hot, was an especially good example of that, and I really do appreciate everyone’s participation.