On Trevor Noah, Binaries, and Divisiveness

It has taken me a lot of thinking and going back and forth with this.

I think there’s a lot of extrapolation by the media and by we who consider ourselves the media: social media users. There always is with any conversation. I agree with Trevor on some points in his NYT op-ed and I disagree on some. His argument that America doesn’t like nuance is my experience as well. America (in my experience) champions binaries and absolutism. We talk about spectrums for things like political leanings and sexuality, yes, but it seems as if people prefer if you’re on one side or the other. Good or evil, depending on your point of view. I find it very hard to have conversations about things like this because sometimes it seems everyone has a different horse in this race and treats their opinion as fact. If your opinion is backed by facts, real facts, thats a good stance. When Tomi Lahren and Trevor Noah went out post-show last week, photos surfaced and people jumped to conclusions so quickly saying they had sex among other stories when in actuality, the only thing we had here were photos. His actions will be scrutinized as all actions are but his are at a greater level because of his role as a late-night host. People ran so far with their opinions that I almost believed them and that’s part of how fake news gets a huge following. Also, people should be allowed to agree with parts of arguments as much as they can agree with the whole stance. It does no good to argue that groups of people are not monoliths when they can’t make their own opinions, based on their individual experience.

Trevor also oversimplifies apartheid and the centrism he wants to exemplify in the United States can’t happen because racism and power dynamics are not that simple. I agree with insofar as a divided people, fighting amongst each other, are more easier ruled. To appease and break bread with racist demagogues and their cronies, I 100% disagree with. Trevor is an entertainer over a political pundit; he opens his article by stating that he didn’t expect to be as incisive as Jon Stewart is. In my opinion (which is based on my experience), Trevor is the mouth piece by which The Daily Show writers get their point of view out. He does have a hand in the process but not as much a hand as Jon Stewart had. I see Jon Stewart through rose colored classes because he was such an influence in my formative years and I loved seeing Jon destroy bullshit on a daily basis. This is not what Trevor Noah is at all. An outside perspective is welcome in the American news cycle but it’s naïve to assume a stand-up from a different country would be able to understand the ins and outs of this country. Saying that, it does not excuse him from doing better and using his voice better as the lone person of color left in late night. A paradoxical double standard also exists where he should not alone be the voice for black America in late night AND say there isn’t a monolith of blackness in this country.

Blackness is worldwide and not just an American phenomenon; Trevor’s experience being biracial in the last 30 years in South Africa is different than being biracial in the last 30 years in America. In my personal experience being from a family of African immigrants, American blackness is rich with tradition, culture, passion, and a twisted history which we continue to overcome day after day. Those values and strengths bond most black Americans together. That bond, from an “outside” view, looks monolithic. Often when we talk about black progress, we talk about American black progress and don’t give enough store to African black progress, South African black progress being the one Americans seem to know enough about. I know I am black and I want no more division as much as the next person, but there is a difference between being a black African and a black American. I’ve felt that being raised with West African tradition and ideals (which are very similar to a lot of traditions of Black Americans), have kept me outside the American black community. Once again, this is my experience and not everyone’s experience, it does no good to pretend to speak for anyone but myself. Trevor Noah’s jokes about African-Americans are very much “cringeworthy” as they are informed by black America’s main export to the rest of the world: pop culture. I am not defending Trevor Noah. I am simply saying I understand why his jokes are the way they are based on also existing outside of black American society for some time and seeing what (outside of goods) been exported to my cousins and friends back home in West Africa in the last few decades. As Tomi Obaro says in her Buzzfeed article, Noah needs to get a real handle on black American society before criticizing the intolerance of “nuance” inside of it. No one wants a misinformed person representing them (this is hard to say seeing as who our President-elect is). Immersing myself in more black American activities, traditions, and lives has done nothing but teach me and I feel closer to developing a better sense of black identity by synthesizing the upbringing and prosocial activities that American black people have with the positive parts of my childhood.

Finally, centrism in America is not attainable because we can’t bend backwards when so much progress can be made. Kumbayah, in this theory and in the song, is easier said than done. In this case, it’s simply put; marginalized people have fought so hard to be where they are that we refuse to move backwards to appease oppressors. I agree with Noah insofar as I enjoy learning about the what the other side wants and how to get there. This, however, does not mean that I will appease or bend backwards to help oppressors. This election was facts versus feelings, both within and between groups. When looked at through the lens of gain and loss, Trump’s side saw the gain of rights for people who were marginalized as in turn marginalizing them, leading to them believing they have lost something. Nothing was lost except the head start that privilege and patriarchy had afforded them until recently. Toni Morrison said recently that if looked at through a white male perspective, it looks like they’ve lost power consistently over the last few hundred years, and recent equality movements was their last straw before heading to the polls. Although I firmly disagree that all Trump voters are all bigots, I do agree that they voted for a man who is the champion of bigots and that supports the racist, sexist, misogynist, islamophobic, homophobic, and transphobic systems in this country, making them complicit in the actions of Trump’s administration. CNN’s Van Jones said on The Daily Show this Monday, that Trump voters saw his rhetoric as “distasteful but not disqualifying.” I don’t think all Trump voters are super radical and all bigots, but vastly misinformed. I will continue to keep trying to to talk to these voters that are what the Republicans believe is “moderate” because in my experience, I’ve never compromised my beliefs and I’ve been able to change several people’s minds who I thought were hopeless. If that’s not your route, that’s ok. I understand that it’s not our responsibility as people of color to save white people from themselves. But I also believe it’s better to fight the war on marginalized people on as many fronts as possible, mine happens to be in person, but I still have your back on the other fronts.

This doesn’t excuse Noah’s oversimplifications. There may be a degree of centrism in South Africa today but it wasn’t until countless people died for what they believed in and to pretend things are perfect in South Africa today is to think that perfection is so simply attainable. Trevor has a unique worldview which landed him a job on The Daily Show. He’s putting his own take on the news and no one has to agree with everything he says. That being said, he’s misinformed on several parts of American culture, especially black America who he has been unofficially tasked with speaking for and with his elevated voice as a part of American political punditry and the role he stepped into, he has a greater responsibility.