The white people who stay silent in the face of white terrorism consider themselves to be “non-racist.” They’re wrong.
Last week, Tina Fey and Lady Gaga offended fans and onlookers with their comments in the midst of heated national discussions about race relations following the white supremacist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Tina Fey returned to SNL’s Weekend Update for a segment on Charlottesville and The University of Virginia, her alma mater.
“It broke my heart to see these evil forces descend upon Charlottesville… A lot of us are feeling anxious and asking ourselves, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person. What can I do?’ And I would urge people this Saturday instead of participating in the screaming matches and potential violence, find a local business you support. Maybe a Jewish-run bakery or an African American-run bakery. Order a cake with the American flag on it and, um, just eat it.”
She went on to speak about Trump condemning violence “on many sides,” delivering jokes about Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and transphobic comments about drag queens being nothing more than violent 6’4 Black men. Fey ended her skit with a jarring and misplaced jab at the expense of Sally Hemings, an enslaved Black woman who was owned and repeatedly raped by former President Thomas Jefferson.
Her advice to viewers, as white supremacists are gathering in the streets yelling “You will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” is to ignore them, stay home, and eat cake. Staying in their homes and ignoring systemic oppression and the violence of white supremacy is what so many white people are already doing, and Fey validated that inaction for them. She told apathetic white people, “You’re doing an amazing job, sweetie.” She told people who are already not showing up, not to fucking show up.
Meanwhile, some fans of comedy read this as a satirical commentary on the lackadaisical attitudes of many white liberals. In order for satire to be effective, it has to be understood by its audience, and those of us who do not find it funny have been quickly disregarded by white liberals and told that we just don’t understand the razor-sharp wit of the SNL sketch.
The problem is not in the insensitive jokes that she told, but in Black people’s reaction to the jokes made at our expense. We’re just too simple to grasp it. Satire or not, impact is always greater than intention — what Tina Fey has done, is offer an opportunity for white people to grab hold of a bare minimum “grassroots movement” that they feel they can get behind. #Sheetcaking began trending, thanks to them.
The audacity in telling any citizen of this country to not stand up against white terrorism is astounding, and is indicative of her privilege. People of color are the demographic being directly targeted by white terrorism, and we do not have the luxury of ignoring it. These Charlottesville terrorists were headed towards low-income, Black neighborhoods in a pointed show of aggression when they were met with counter-protesters.
To even jokingly imply that it is better to ignore this kind of racist intimidation rather than confront it is beyond irresponsible. This safety that Fey urges us to embrace is a privilege that people of color do not have when white supremacists are marching in the streets with torches and guns. Letting them “scream into the air” unchallenged and unchecked is not an option for those fighting for Black liberation.
Related: HEY, WHITE ALLIES? IT’S GAME TIME.
Fey’s advice comes only days after Lady Gaga took to Twitter to ask Black people what the “non-racist white community” can do to help. Not only does her question require emotional and intellectual labor on the part of Black people, but, with it, she also attempts to remove accountability from herself for the racism that she has displayed. Lady Gaga, wearer of faux locs and casual bystander to Blackface, fancies herself a “non-racist” white person. She is wrong.
All white people are socialized to be racist. Many of the white people who stay silent in the face of white terrorism consider themselves to be “non-racist.” They’re wrong. Tina Fey, a comedian who encouraged audiences to laugh at the rape of Sally Hemings with a tasteless joke, considers herself to be “non-racist.” She’s wrong.
Even if they do not march enthusiastically in white supremacist rallies or support the likes of Donald Trump, all white people benefit from institutional racism and enact racism, but far too many are reluctant to admit this. Any discussions about racism that white people attempt to have or participate in, especially in the wake of Charlottesville, should begin from a place of understanding their complicity in racism, not from a place that immediately denies responsibility.
I cannot tell you how many times white people like Fey have told me to just ignore racism and considered it a legitimate course of action for me as a Black woman. I cannot tell you how many times white people like Gaga have tried to begin discussions about racism with me by immediately attempting to distance themselves from the racism in which they are complicit.
White people have a fundamental misunderstanding of racism, how it operates, how they benefit from it, and how it impacts people of color. Therefore, they consistently miss the mark as “allies” by centering themselves. In this way, white liberalism and white feminism are continually failing us — and to be honest, we’re tired of explaining this shit to them. If Tina Fey and Lady Gaga want to be better white people, they can start by recognizing their own privilege and their complicity in racism, and putting money in the hands of people who are already doing work to combat white supremacy.