And there has been. Wilmore calls out the ubiquitous nature of racism in this country in almost every single show. His very first show's first three remarks were about race in America ("Tonight-ly, the Oscar nominations are out, and they're so white, a grand jury has decided not to indict them... Oprah marched on Selma this weekend. She has a dream that 'Selma' shall overcome 'The Wedding Ringer' at the box office... Yeah, we talk 'Selma,' Ferguson and Eric Garner. It's Comedy Central's worst nightmare - brother finally gets a show on late-night TV."). Not sure Comedy Central is the network who wakes up in a cold sweat thinking about black male comedians gracing their airwaves, but OK.
Wilmore even did a show devoted entirely to black women, which is remarkable because it addresses intersectionality, which is a fancy word for the ways in which gender and racial inequality intersect to deal Women of Color a particularly nasty blow. This show-- The Nightly Show but particularly the episode devoted exclusively to black women-- is a step in the right direction because it means that someone who has a not-a-white-guy perspective is leading public discourse, and he's encouraging not-white-guy perspectives. (Yes, I realize that it's a weird claim to make, that a comedy show is expected to be at the helm of important issues. But this is a discussion which has already been had, long ago. And considering the sorry state of the news, I'm not sure those of us who skip CNN for Comedy Central are any less informed.)
So I was excited on Monday, when Wilmore announced that his next show would be asking, "Why is it taking so long for America to level the playing field for women?" YES!, I thought. Why is it taking so long? Maybe Wilmore would go right into the round table discussion, like they did with the black ladies, and maybe we could get into some actual feminist issues. Maybe someone would even call themselves a feminist. Ooooooo. I was going to tweet to #Keepit100, the hashtag Wilmore uses to let his audience ask him questions directly, "You're a black guy on late night, but you're still a guy. Better?" But I couldn't get the wording right, and I figured some other, more articulate woman would say something. If Wilmore handled gender inequality the way he'd lifted up black women's voices, maybe finally, finally, there would be a meatier conversation about it.
Here's what actually happened.
1) More about racism-- this time, those assholic frat guys in Oklahoma and the old white lady who had the stupidity to film herself doing the racist chant, and then acted like a victim when she got caught. When Rolling Stone covered last night's episode today, they spent 2/3 of the article talking, in the appropriately disgusted terms of white people who definitely have black friends, about what jerks racists are.
2) A round table discussion with no white women-- not one, but there was a white dude-- which began with the question, "Who puts more hater-ade on the women? Is it women themselves, or the men?"
3) No #Keepit100 question. This is either because women didn't ask, or there weren't any questions worth answering.
Dude. Disappointing. Very disappointing.
Coming from a guy who's handled racial issues, which are always divisive and especially in the wake of the DOJ report of Ferguson, so well, I was expecting an honest look at gender discrimination. And I'm not saying that racism and sexism are exactly comparable: if a white woman steps out of line, she's shamed, bullied and possibly sexually assaulted; if a black man steps out of line, he goes to jail. Different consequences, and a different history of discrimination in each case. But still-- I had higher hopes for Wilmore.
First, "Who throws more hater-ade." Really? One of the ways to shut down discussions about gender bias is to, essentially, blame the victim. This is everyone's favorite defense when women say we face discrimination, and it's just a way to avoid the discussion. You know the line: "Women are naturally catty and backstabbing. They're discriminating against themselves, so there is no such thing as systemic sexism anymore." This is like that argument that goes, "Black-on-black crime is still the highest of any racial demographic, so racism is no longer a problem because black people are behaving badly towards other black people." No. No, no, no. Women do not all like each other, but that doesn't mean gender discrimination isn't a Thing. Unfortunately, panelist Egypt Sherrod's answer was that women cut one another down far more often than men do-- which is just the answer everyone wants to hear, rather than, "That question is a dodge." Good, we tell ourselves. Just what we thought: sexism is self-inflicted.
The second panelist, comedian Chloe A. Hilliard, explains this phenomenon awesomely: "A lot of women don't want to support a woman outright because they still want to be respected by men. They want to play on both teams. 'See, I may have ovaries, but I can still sling a dick.'" Interestingly, this proves that sexism is still an active force in the lives of women: Why would we need to try so hard to make men like us if they didn't still hold most of the power? We have to disrespect other women in order to get men to respect us? Look up the definition of a Female Chauvinist Pig, and you'll see why this is a symptom of sexism, not proof of its absence.
The Latina panelist, Alicia Menendez, stepped in and explained that it's due in part to the way we ask women in power to be strong enough to get things done, but nice enough that "I like you." This got a round of applause: women in leadership are expected to walk an impossible line of likeability and laser-focus on results. This is basically impossible, and it represents another way in which women are kept out of positions of power. It relates to being called "bossy," which has been discussed at length by greater minds than mine. So this represented a tiny victory on the show-- so yay there.
Second, there's a white guy on the panel. If there's one voice who's heard loud and clear, whether we want it or not, especially in discussions of systemic imbalance, it's white males. You need a comedian on the panel, I get it. But you already have one in Chloe. I get it: men have to deal with harmfully restrictive gender expectations too. But that's not what this guest was there to talk about-- he was there to make sure that, as usual, a representative for Your Average Middle-Aged White Guy got to weigh in on women's issues. There were no white women who could come and talk about their experience? None? No women over 50? No covered women? But a white guy got to sit at the table, again?
Finally, No #Keepit100? That's on us. Me included. I wish now I'd taken another few minutes to formulate a better tweet. But now that I've seen the show, here's what I wish I'd said:
Larry, you're a black man with firsthand knowledge of bullshit conversations about injustice. Re: gender... Can you do better? #Keepit100
I hope you can, man. Because that was some weak-ass tea.