From his distrust of “the government” to his appreciation for “curvy” (or “sturdy”) women, Tom Hanks’ Doug holds a lot in common with black Americans. This doesn’t mean racial divisions are an illusion.
In the wrong creative hands, the appearance of a Trump “deplorable” named Doug (played with terrific comedic skill and timing by Tom Hanks), on the recurring Saturday Night Live sketch Black Jeopardy (the bit was introduced in 2014), could’ve gone wrong — horribly wrong.
Previous white contestants on the fictional show included an embodiment of the Becky trope and a white professor of African American studies, both of whom the black host readily deliciously mocked. Their privilege and unmistakable ignorance of (working class) black culture and vernacular was revealed by an inability to score points (or build money) in any of the topics listed on the quiz board.
Given this, it’s understandable for anyone to believe that this is an ideal environment to insert a Trump “deplorable.”
SNL has been unrelenting in its excoriation of Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton). A past skit — a mock Trump ad — painted the base of voters supporting Trump as little more than rabid white supremacists. A sketch in which a white middle-aged Trump stan — proudly clad in a “Make America Great Again” hat and speaking in a drowsy southern drawl, faces off against two black women contestants (Keeley, played by Sasheer Zamata, and Shanice, played by Leslie Jones who, in all likelihood, among Doug’s friends and family are dismissed as pathological “welfare queens”) — had all the makings of a serious wig-snatch fest.
To our surprise, that’s not what happened. Instead, co-creators Michael Che and Brian Tucker opted to do something more sophisticated.
When host Darnell Haynes (Keenan Thompson) read the answer “They Out Here Saying: The new iPhone wants your thumbprint ‘for your protection,’” and Doug buzzed in the correct question — “What is, ‘I don’t think so, that’s how they get ya?’” — Haynes and the two black contestants were flabbergasted.
“Yes,” Haynes said, confused and delighted.
But Doug wasn’t done. Given another clue from “They Out Here Saying” about the value of voting, he surprised his black host and guests again when he responded “What is ‘Come on, they already decided who wins even ’fore it happens?’”
An excited Hayes blurted “Man, the Illuminati figured that out months ago!”
Doug went on, as Vox puts it, to crush the game, even ingratiating himself to the crowd (which we’re assuming was a predominantly black audience) by throwing in a compliment about Tyler Perry’s Medea character (a character this black, by the way, cannot stand).
“If I can laugh and pray in 90 minutes, that is money well spent,” Doug said, admitting he bought the box collection of Medea films from Walmart.
So what, exactly, was going on? Well, in almost seven minutes, SNL seems to have done what writers and thinkers have been taking great pains to do since the arc of this election began bending toward Trump: frame the sharp rightward political shift and mass outpouring for Trump’s brand of politics within the lens of a class analysis.
As The Washington Post’s Dan Zak pointed out, this particular SNL election sketch thrived were others didn’t because it managed to legitimately establish a “common ground” between black and conservative white voters. This ground, Zak argues, is constructed out of “a sense of disenfranchisement, a distrust of authorities and, more playfully, an appreciation of curvy women.”
Over at The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber adds to this thesis. Describing the sketch as an “affectionate portrayal of a Trump supporter,” Kornhaber sheds light on the economic dimensions of the “common ground:”
” … many white Trump supporters are as familiar with financial desperation as many black Americans are. Thompson’s host Darnell Hayes asks Doug whether he’s sure he wants to play black Jeopardy; Doug says he’s just hoping to win some money, so “get ’er done.” When lottery scratcher tickets get mentioned, Doug chimes in, “I play that every week.” On a question of what to do when your brakes are busted, Doug correctly answers, “You better go to that dude in my neighborhood who’ll fix anything for 40 dollars.” (Hayes: “You know Cecil?!” “Yeah, but my Cecil’s name is Jimmy”).”
There you have it. Blacks have a “Cecil.” Whites have a “Jimmy.”
More still, compared to the black Canadian, Jared, (played by rapper Drake) — who is culturally and, possibly, financially alienated from American blacks and comes off as a latte-drinking, hippy wankster — Doug, who, according to the analysis of historian Nancy Isenberg, is a member of that despised group of white Americans known as “white trash,” appears to share the same social and economic conditions as blacks, but for the color of his skin.
Of course, this is an extremely simplified rendering of the real circumstances. In America, where capital is law and the iron rules of the free market system are guaranteed and enforced through neoliberal policies, one’s race — whether viewed in (erroneous) biological or cultural terms — is a form of property. And all various, loosely associated institutions in this country — theology, science, law, medicine — were all in agreement that black human resources, in the majority, are an inferior species possessing inferior properties.
Divisions based on the possession of racialized material properties are no illusion.
We know that black poverty is “fundamentally distinct” from white poverty. We know there is a racial wealth gap and that it would take more than two centuries for the average black family to build the wealth equivalent of an average white family. We know that whites have benefited more from state-sponsored affirmative action programs (read “Jim Crow,” “New Deal,” FHA support, etc.) than blacks. We know that five whites own more land than all of the black landowners in America combined.
And, perhaps these deplorable facts are why, as Hayes introduced the final category, “Lives That Matter,” Doug — who had been knocking his responses out the park up to this point — froze and elicited an-all-too familiar cautious glare, prompting Hayes to smile and save Doug the trouble of answering, saying, “Well, it was good while it lasted, Doug.” Yes, it was.