So, Saturday Night Live finally addressed their 38-year faux pas of only hiring four black ladies ever—even though frat-boy dude comics cycle through there like a Logan's Run of white mediocrity—and leaving all black female characters (if they bother writing any at all) to be played by the few black male cast-members in a goofy minstrelsy of black womanhood. You know, just a little four-decade-long whoopsie-daisy!
But after first blaming black women for just not being funny enough, and then admitting that they don't really give a shit, SNL finally responded in earnest! In a brief, self-referential cold open this past Saturday, they confessed that they've been a bit of a butterfingers when it comes to this race and gender stuff. But here, look, it's Al Sharpton! So everything's cool now, right? Water under the bridge? Right, guys? ...Guys?
While I'm pleased that SNL demonstrated some nuanced grasp of their transgression—admitting you were wrong is hard and good!—you don't deserve a mountain of kudos for simply acknowledging that you blatantly and unapologetically fucked up for 38 seasons of television. I know people who were born and died within that span of time. Sure, SNL can have a tiny kudos. A fun-size kudos. They can have a bite of my Kudos. But, for future reference, a better way to handle that situation would be to have not fucking done it in the first place. Or at least to fix it without having to be badgered into action by the entire progressive internet.
Here's Brittney Cooper at Salon on why she's not laughing:
I get the attempt at irony. But who ain’t laughing is me. How can I, when the joke seems to be on black women?
Why is it that Americans are infinitely more comfortable with black men playing sassy, matronly black female characters in drag, as Kenan Thompson frequently does on the show, than with black women playing black female roles? Drag can be generative and subversive, but in this case, it just seems oppressive.
When Thompson came under fire a few weeks back for insinuating that “SNL” casting directors struggled to find black women who were “ready” to do comedic roles, he attempted to justify the systematic ignoring and excluding of black women from “SNL” by arguing that they’re simply unqualified to do comedy. Racists deploy this kind of argument to justify why they don’t have people of color employees and men make these kinds of arguments to justify not hiring women for top leadership positions.
(By the way, the joke is on black women and black women are the joke: How many times have black men have played black women for laughs? At least 32 times. At least.)
Now that SNL's diversity problem is at the forefront of the national consciousness, what happens when they do their next wave of new hires? As one Jez commenter noted in Sunday's cold open post:
I feel kind of bad for the black woman who will inevitably be hired into the cast next year and then have a million articles written about her asking whether she really deserves to be on the show or was just hired to stop people from complaining.
She's going to have to be the most ironclad human tank ever. On top of the fact that there are plenty of people who don't think women, in general, have any place in comedy (more on that in a minute), the first black woman hired on SNL after this kerfuffle will carry on her shoulders the justification of an entire social movement. Every dud of a punchline "proves" that black women don't deserve to be there. Every success is a fluke, or the work of the writers. The exact same prejudice that has shut black women out of the SNL cast also predisposes dickheads to dislike them. And those are the same dickheads screaming that battles for representation are "reverse discrimination" and itching for fodder to prove activists wrong. It's a shitshow in the making.
So here's the only workable solution: HIRE LIKE EIGHT BLACK WOMEN AT ONCE.
Yeah, that's not going to happen. But maybe two? What about two? What about making a correction that's slightly more than the bare minimum that you could humanly do? Activists will continue to call this shit out, but there's not going to be substantial, systemic progress until the people in charge drop their lip service and get fucking proactive. At what point are we going to start actively trying to fix the problem (which, yes, might mean some overcorrection—GOD FORBID WE HAVE TOO MANY BLACK LADIES), instead of just doing damage control while straight white male opinions get even more entrenched as the gold standard of comedy? And it's not that I don't think white dudes can make good comedy. Of course they can. They just shouldn't comprise one billion percent of the comedy that gets made—and not for the sake of non-straight non-white non-males, but for the sake of comedy itself. Art is worse with a less diverse pool of input. Having more women and more women of color in comedy expands the reach and the relevance of comedy. It is a good idea because it is a good idea.
In the past month alone, I've sat on two different panels about whether or not women "can be funny." Over and over, I heard the same sentiment from female comedians: Well, we just have to keep trying! We just have to keep writing great material! We just have to keep being the best we can be! That's all well and good—and those female comics deserve massive respect for forging ahead in this industry—but at what point can we start demanding that men take some initiative? And I'm not talking about nebulous pledges of "support"—I'm talking about actually booking more female comics. Hiring women. Calling people out when they toss off lazy material about how broads are naturally unfunny. Actually giving a shit instead of just pretending to for PR.
At what point does it cease to be black women's responsibility to dismantle the system that actively marginalizes them? How are they supposed to conquer that system from the inside when the system is rigged to keep them out? I'm sick of pretending like that's a reasonable stance to take in this conversation.
Here's Syreeta McFadden at Feministing:
I’m told that the process for SNL involves sending a tape and if deemed worthy, being invited to audition. SNL is a 38-year-old series, that has had 137 cast members. 43 of them have been women, 7 have been black men, and 4 have been black women. It has had only 8 black women hosts in its history. Not to mention the remarkable absence of Asian and Latino American actors. Thinking about Ellen Pompeo’s criticism of this year’s Emmys, I wonder if SNL missed an opportunity to be nuanced, subversive and funny.
Not only does SNL have a diversity problem, TV has a diversity problem.
None of this applies exclusively to comedy or TV or show business in general. Every industry in this nation has representation problems. Government has representation problems. Prisons have representation problems. Corporate culture has representation problems. Jezebel has representation problems. We might not have 40 years of exclusion under our belts like SNL, but white feminism in general certainly does. It's shameful, all of it. We all have a tremendously long way to go, and we're not going to get there if the people pulling the strings don't get it together to do some actual shit. Neutrality is garbage.
SNL can have a thank-you when something actually changes. Not before.