How Fox News Got Away With Implying Black People Are Slaves
On April 16, the 42nd episode of The Greg Gutfeld Show aired on Fox News. The show featured Stephen Baldwin, Abby Huntsman, and Pete Hegseth, and for the most part, it was another lackluster outing of a notably lackluster “comedy” show. But then, something happened that woke me up.
Gutfeld showed a clip of three Black former Apprentice cast members (Randal Pinkett, Tara Dowdell, and Kwame Jackson — no relation) speaking out against Trump as a presidential candidate. Dowdell remarked that she was concerned about “the impacts of Donald Trump’s divisiveness.” Then Baldwin called the three Black cast members bitter nobodies, and Gutfeld called them slaves.
Now, before you tweet that, watch the clip. Gutfeld did not call them slaves outright; he casually said, “They (the Black contestants) are at the bottom of the pyramid. You (Baldwin) are at the top, looking down.” Baldwin responded by saying, “of course.”
If this seems like harmless banter, it isn’t. In disguising racist language as a nonchalant comment, this exchange served as just the latest example of a racist microaggression. Such language is something Black people confront regularly, and in its very covertness, it can be just as damaging as more explicit forms of oppression.
As one common example of how such aggressions can manifest, consider what some white people say when asked about affirmative action: “The most qualified person should get the job.” The implicit suggestion? Blacks don’t work as hard. In the case of the Fox News banter, anyone with even a surface level understanding of history knows that the analogy used posits white folks as pharaohs and Black folks as slaves. But because Gutfeld and Baldwin didn’t use those exact and explicit words, they will never have to atone for that language. And worse yet, without being challenged, their words will quietly be accepted as truth.
Starting from a very early age, the effects of such language can be toxic. The American Psychological Association describes “exposure to racism — whether the acts are overt or subtle” as one trigger of “toxic stress response,” which has been linked to “severe illnesses such as depression, autoimmune disorders such as lupus and Crohn’s disease, and other disorders that compromise our physical and psychological well-being.”
Black children may also interpret these anti-Black microaggressions as the norm and internalize them. The Doll Test, for instance, originally conducted by Dr. Mamie Clark and Dr. Kenneth Clark, found that Black children associated white dolls with positive attributes, and Black dolls with negative characteristics. The impacts of these feelings of inferiority and insecurity are profound, influencing things like Black candidates being less likely to ask for a raise or promotion. One case study in Arizona linked microaggressions to achievement gaps among Black males.
Yet despite all the evidence of the harm caused by racist microaggressions, our culture continues to make it exceedingly difficult to challenge them. As no doubt will happen here, any Black person who deigns to call out covert racism is painted as “too sensitive,” “irrational,” or “radical,” thereby destroying their credibility. Many who speak out about white privilege are met with questions about Black privilege and end up having to defend themselves instead of being able to honestly discuss the original racist issue.
Take, for example, the recent Gap ad that showed one Black child being used as an armrest. Many media personalities considered the response of Black folks (calling out the ad’s inequity) a “racial uproar” — a highly loaded phrase. In the face of such opposition, it can be easy to conclude that if someone isn’t straight-up saying the N word, we should just let it go. After all, no one wants to be that Black person.
But if we don’t fight back, how will anything change? Without a challenge, the characterization of Jackson, Pinkett, and Downdell as “bitter nobodies” is allowed to be considered truth, and certain white folks will get the signal that mistreatment of Black folks is okay. Gutfeld’s comment was potentially worse than straight-up calling us slaves, and it is indicative of how the system works against society’s most vulnerable groups.
I don’t expect all Black folks to risk their job or livelihood on this crusade, and I acknowledge that doing so can have very real negative consequences. But we do have agency — and a consistent and sustained confrontation effort will make white supremacy more visible.
So let’s do something. Let’s call these violators out by name. Greg Gutfeld, Stephen Baldwin: You are racist and we are not slaves.
Lead image of Greg Gutfeld: Wikimedia Commons