The Problem with How Jon Stewart Talks About Race
Smug self-righteousness is not a substitute for honest discussion.
Above: always imagine a clown nose on this clown
Introductory note/PSA: this has been an unusual week. In dealing with technical issues at my blog, I was unable to get out a free edition of the newsletter this past week. However. today’s lengthy missive should satisfy your craving for Constitutional Vanguard content. It will be another missive in two sections: the first part for everyone, and the second part for the paid subscribers. But the free part today is not just a teaser; it is an analysis of Jon Stewart’s recent program “The Problem with White People” and how its tone exemplifies the problems with so much of the discourse in this country. For many, that might be enough. But the second half, for paid subscribers, is where I really dive into the arguments made by Stewart and point out some things he overlooked. To read that part, subscribe or try a free trial.
I have not given up on entirely free missives, so please don’t unsubscribe because you are under the impression that every email you start to read runs into a paywall. It won’t — and on paid missives with a paywall in the middle, I will try to inform you up front, as I am doing here today, that a paywall will be coming at some point. That said, even the part before the paywall today is worth your time, I think, and forms its own cohesive whole.
End of PSA. On with the newsletter!
Some time has passed since the airing of the Jon Stewart AppleTV broadcast in which Stewart unfairly browbeat Andrew Sullivan on the issue of race. This post is not about Stewart, or Sullivan, or their personalities — but rather, the mentality behind Stewart’s view of race in this country. Although the show aired several days ago, the way Stewart talks about these issues is a timeless problem. His way of looking at the problem of race is pervasive in our culture, and the manner in which this point of view is expressed (and opposing views are ritualistically denounced) is utter poison.
OK, fine: Let’s talk about Stewart’s show for a moment first
Despite my reluctance to get off track by focusing on personality, I will begin with some background about the show itself, before diving into the actual arguments advanced by Stewart. Andrew Sullivan has described how Stewart’s bookers bait-and-switched Sullivan, initially attaching to the end of the fishhook a promise of a one-on-one sitdown on the issue of race relations, and switching that admittedly unappealing lure to something even worse: a Bill Maher-style struggle session with two smug hard-left guests and a mob of hooting leftist nincompoops.
Place to one side the obvious observation that any self-respecting fish would turn up its nares at the initially proffered inducement. Why, what could be more alluring than the chance to talk race with Jon Stewart?
The real problem here is not that the show encapsulates why I think Jon Stewart is a smug a-hole, although it does that in a thorough and conclusive fashion. The real problem is bigger than one snide, self-righteous, unfunny “comedian” who styles himself a Deep Thinker. The real problem is that the show is a perfect example of a more widespread problem with our discourse. This problem is why people have a very difficult time having a substantive discussion about controversial issues. Stewart’s behavior here is infuriating, but all too typical of the way people argue, especially online or on television. Mischaracterization, flippant insults, interrupting, relying on comfortable assumptions — it’s all there.
Stewart’s show is the absolute opposite of persuasive. It’s not a discussion. It’s a televised struggle session.
If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of how Stewart mischaracterized Sullivan, called him a “motherfucker,” and engaged in the performative prostration now demanded of all white people by high priests of “anti-racism” like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, you can read Sullivan’s Substack piece, or just watch the show yourself.
But I don’t recommend that you watch the show, especially if you have been attending self-help groups or taking medication to address your anger issues. I’m pretty unflappable and had to resist the urge to throw furniture against the wall. It’s the most insufferable thing I have watched in months. The only purpose of watching it would be to dispel any notion you might otherwise hold of Jon Stewart as a positive influence on our national discussion. If you do not hold such a view, it would only make you annoyed, angry, sad, or likely all three.
The discussion with Sullivan and the two KenDiAngelo clones was preceded by a 20-minute Stewart diatribe praising people like Angela “I buy guns for people who use them to take over courtrooms” Davis and Sister “why not have a week and kill white people?” Souljah.
In the portion of the newsletter for paid subscribers below, I will address some of Stewart’s arguments about socioeconomic disparities between the races, and some of the obvious factors and counterarguments that he is ignoring.
For now, the important thing to understand is that the principal purpose of this pre-guest monologue was to precondition the audience to believe that anyone who in any way mentions cultural problems in poor black communities is a racist who is trying to blame black people for things that are all 100% the fault of white people. In that room, it was an unforgivable sin to question whether there are any aspects of the culture in some black communities that might be counterproductive. That is always and everywhere a racist trope, according to this haughty crowd.
Stewart mocks the idea of reacting to the George Floyd murder by canceling Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, failing to acknowledge that the people responsible for such silliness are the very hyperwoke people he resembles in his rant. He cites the KenDiAngelo gospel that white people need to listen and STFU, as black people have been trying to tell white people for years — citing not just the aforementioned Sister Souljah and Angela Davis, but rap artists and basically everyone else who has been saying how oppressed black people are. In fact, a rant like this would have been right at home in Stewart’s opening monologue:
You can almost see Stewart snapping his fingers in the universal sign of hipster agreement. Stewart says black people “have given us step-by-step instructions through the centuries” but problems remain.
Stewart says black people have consistently told us that “this country has never resolved the original sins of slavery and segregation” (which apparently can only be done through reparations) and complains about white people who say if black people get educated they can make it on their own. (More about that in part two.) The basic summary of most of his rant is this: “White people are poor and do drugs because something has been done to them. Black people are poor and do drugs ‘cause they won’t just get up and do something. Everything that happens is viewed through that filter.”
Stewart concludes: “Black people have had to fight so hard for equality that they have been irreparably set back in the pursuit of equity.” “Irreparably” — so if you take him seriously (but remember: if you try to challenge him, clown nose on, he’s just a comedian!) — this can’t be repaired. So . . . why reparations again?
That’s a rhetorical question.
I don’t even want to get into the segment where Stewart had on Andrew Sullivan to use as a rhetorical punching bag. It’s exactly what you think it is, but worse.
The entire show is a jewel of an example of how not to talk about a controversial subject like race. Hooting at opposing viewpoints, casually insinuating your opponents are racist, and fostering an atmosphere of intolerance are the tactics of illiberalism. And the clown Jon Stewart is fully on board with that mode of discourse. Hell, Crossfire was a model of rational debate compared to this. Stewart’s show is indeed poison, and anyone who thinks this is how people should discuss race is out of their mind.
But what about these complaints that black people are worse off when it comes to things like home ownership and income? Isn’t that an obvious example of racism? Let’s take a closer look at his arguments — and what he is overlooking.
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