June 25, 2020

Old friends Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert reunited to talk about some pretty heavy material hanging over their white, middle-aged, male consciences. Normally the two have used satire and comedy to point out the absurdity and hypocrisy of racism and sexism as it operates in modern society, even as white folks were denying we still had work to do.

This time, in the wake of international protests against police brutality that have truly taken on a life of their own, Colbert and Stewart talked about the roots of institutional racism, going all the way back to FDR and the New Deal. Stewart attributed the power of this movement in particular to the pandemic. It's given us the opportunity or the mandate to "stare into this sort of abyss of a gaping racial wound that we never seemed to do anything about," but now we have "stopped to smell the racism." What followed was an excellent history lesson many of us never got in school.

STEWART: The biggest obstacle to change has always been our inability to understand that it's not just about ending segregation, it's about dismantling the barriers....While they [Black people] were fighting for equality, white people were building equity. The disparity, then, between the lack of equality, and the rising of equity just exacerbated. So, they're always negotiation from a subservient position what SHOULD NOT be a negotiation. They had to, from the get-go, ASK for humanhood.

He went on to explain all the legal boundaries our government put into place to keep Black people from gaining equity, while forcing them to fight for equality. He talked about The Homestead Act, where once the slaves were freed, they weren't given millions of acres of land like white people were.

STEWART: The Federal Housing Administration, in the New Deal, explicitly said you cannot loan these low-cost loans that were intended so that white people could get equity, you cannot give them to Black people.
The GI bill, in Long Island, when everyone was buying into Levittown, and they used those low-cost loans, explicitly excluded Black people. Until we address THAT, equality won't come. That, to me, feels like the root.j

COLBERT: I think that is the root, and I would only add to that, that I think one of the reasons why this is such a catalytic moment is because of all the work done by Black organizers over the years, specifically Black Lives Matter, who, four years ago, during the election, was like, "Well, who is this radical organization?" and now is recognized as having a proper goal. The understanding of what Black Lives Matter means is more broadly accepted.

Then Stewart identified one of the most immovable barriers to progress. He called them the "but" people. The ones who say, "Yeah, it's awful that George Floyd was killed. But..." There is always a "but" that negates the need for real change. For introspection. For hard work on the part of white people, who find it easier to lay the responsibility of the murder of Black people at the feet of those same Black people.

STEWART: I think the problem is two-fold. I think there's a large swath of the white population that believes that somehow, that the inequality in the Black community is on them.

COLBERT: That "they're just not working hard enough."

STEWART: Correct. That there is a problem of virtue and culture. "Pull your pants up!" "Get a job!" "If you just worked — MY grandfather had to work!" Right, YOUR grandfather, when HE came home from World War II, they gave him a low-cost loan to buy a house. When a Black GI came home from World War II, they weren't allowed to. They were never allowed to build that equity.

He ended with the point that many others have made, about these bullies and psychos who taunt Black people with their Trump hats and Confederate flags. The ones who think the Black community should just get over slavery because it happened so long ago, and, hey, these white dudes aren't slaveholders! They just love their great-grandpappy's flag! Stewart asked what those idiots would do if THEY had to endure what generations of Black people in America have had to suffer. White people are in quarantine for six weeks, and they're storming their state capitol building with swastika flags and weapons of war.

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