How Jon Stewart and Wyatt Cenac Expose Race On The Left
Wyatt Cenac, a former writer and correspondent on “The Daily Show,” revealed Jon Stewart told him “Fuck off, I’m done with you” when Cenac confronted him about the way he was imitating Herman Cain’s voice on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. The incident occurred in 2011, as Stewart was imitating Herman Cain’s voice, who was a 2012 presidential hopeful at the time. Maron’s WTF podcasts are in-depth conversations covering a range of topics. It seems unlikely that Cenac thought “I’m going to get the most bang for the buck here by slamming Jon a couple times.” I encourage everyone to listen.
Yesterday Led To Today
Throughout history, there has been a massive, culture wide effort to deny the humanity of black people which has demonstrated itself clearly in the way white people mimicked black voices. Remnants of those tropes persist in popular culture whose connection to that history is oft forgotten. That history is real; and conversely, nonexistent when a black person mocks a white person’s voice.
Whenever white people make arguments about how there’s one standard when black people do something, and another standard when white people do it, they tend to separate the act from its history. Yes, if you’re just thinking about this very moment, it’s an unfair double standard. But so much of everything is the long shadow of what’s happened in the past and that’s particularly true of race in America.
Accusing someone or something of being racist today means a lot more than it has in the past, yet thanks to media and technology, we have the ability to see more of these kinds of acts now than ever. Cenac questioning Stewart on the Cain imitation comes across as “Stewart’s a racist!” It seems to be difficult for white people to accept constructive criticism from even their black friends and colleagues on the issue.
Personally, I don’t doubt that Stewart is a good guy, but I don’t believe anyone is as good as their public image suggests especially when that image is tied to a crafted television persona. There is no doubt that people experience a failure of empathy, particularly when it comes to people with life experiences that they have never had and cannot fully relate to. Defensiveness can get in the way of accepting valid criticism as a result.
This is a cautionary but all too familiar tale about how even people with impeccable liberal and/or progressive credentials are still uncomfortable with issues of race, and about how far we still have to go as Americans when it comes to issues of race. Who should stand down for the greater good of liberalism or progressivism? A current example of this is the unease Bernie Sanders talks about race, and the lack of acknowledgment of his difficulty in doing so by his many liberal/progressive supporters. It wreaks of being told to subordinate our priorities and feelings in order to once again be saved by a great white hope. I like Jon Stewart. I like Bernie Sanders. They are not above the fray though. No one is.