Trevor Noah’s backlash

Kathleen Posted by Kathleen at December 8, 2016 15:16:43 December 8, 2016 15:16:43

Last week, Trevor Noah interviewed Tomi Lahren. Since then, he’s sparked a heated debate online about the conversations people of colour should be having –or not having—with people who don’t value their rights or humanity. On Monday, Noah wrote an op-ed in The New York Times related to Lahren’s appearance on The Daily Show and yesterday, he went on The Breakfast Club to talk about the now infamous segment.

I’ll start with the Tomi Lahren interview. That clip went viral. You can watch it here if you haven’t seen it yet. The segment was hailed by some as Trevor Noah’s best work – some critics even calling it his ONLY good work on a show many have written off since Trevor is not Jon Stewart. Other critics slammed Noah and The Daily Show for inviting someone on their show whose nickname is Racist Barbie and says sh-t like this to reach a massive platform. Since the segment went viral, Lahren has been profiled by The New York Times and been the subject of many “5 Things to Know about Tomi Lahren!” puff pieces.

This needs to be said: Tomi Lahren’s views are abhorrent, rooted in racism and deeply dangerous. This is a woman who frequently likens the Black Lives Matter movement to the KKK, spews false facts about protestors and routinely attacks black people who object to inequality like Colin Kaepernick, Beyoncé and Jesse Williams. When I first saw the Daily Show interview, I shared it on Twitter. I thought Trevor handled himself beautifully considering he didn’t scream at Lahren, like I would have wanted to. I thought he asked smart questions, followed up calmly to reveal her as a ranting idiot and threw in a few jokes to prove that some of what she says is so ludicrous, it’s laughable. But then came the backlash. After the Daily Show segment, Trevor and Tomi exchanged pleasantries over Twitter. They were papped going out for dinner and Tomi even shared a photo of cupcakes Trevor allegedly sent her.


So, let’s get the gossip out of the way. Noah has a girlfriend. He clarified on The Breakfast Club that the dinner was set up by their producers who were also there but the paparazzi cut them out of the photos. They weren’t on a date. And TMZ reports that the cupcakes weren’t directly from Noah, but his staff. But does every guest who goes on The Daily Show get a dinner with producers and cupcakes? Why is a blatant bigot getting special treatment from the show?

Feminist writer and one of my favourite people to follow on Twitter, Jamilah Lemieux sarcastically tweeted “Comparing Black Lives Matter to the KKK puts people's lives in danger, but let's just be pals!” in response to how friendly it seemed Noah was being towards Lahren. She also pointed out that Lahren’s appeal is directly related to her looks. An op-ed in Very Smart Brothas called “It’s Time to Stop Allowing Ourselves to be Seduced by Sh-tty White Women,” put it like this:

“…their looks have granted them the privilege of consideration. Sometimes even kindness. (And sometimes even cupcakes.) Because women that young, that blonde, that petite just can’t possibly also be that hateful.”

It’s hard not to think this is true when Breakfast Club host Charlamagne tweeted this in response to his own “friendship” with Lahren.


He completely disregards the countless women of colour who are creating thoughtful work every day but aren’t invited to spaces like The Daily Show or The Breakfast Club to share their views. Is it because they aren’t blonde enough?

Trevor addressed the idea that he shouldn’t have interviewed Tomi Lahren in the first place on The Breakfast Club while Charlamagne also defended his interactions with her. "I do not believe we are in a situation where we are providing exposure," Noah said, since Lahren’s videos garnered tens of millions of views on YouTube (face palm) before her appearance on his show. Here’s where I hesitantly agree with him. Jon Stewart repeatedly engaged in heated conversations with conservatives like Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck. This is what The Daily Show does. I take issue with the dinner, the cupcakes, the nice notes on Twitter and the normalization of a human being who mobilizes her followers with hatred and intolerance.
Trevor Noah went on to say it’s important to "talk to people who would never hear you in the first place…. It doesn't mean you have to agree, but at least you're in the world where you are hearing the opposing view.”

It’s a nice sentiment in theory but considering the climate in America right now, it’s naïve. Noah doubled down on this view in his op-ed for the Times writing, “We can be unwavering in our commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist people who’ve oppressed us.” Trevor grew up in South Africa during Apartheid. In the article he drives home the point that “divided people are easier to rule” and that America should look to South Africa as a cautionary tale. While I see where he’s trying to go and I know this is simplifying an incredibly complex issue, it’s not like racism in South Africa magically went away because everyone sat down for biscuits together.

I’ve shared on this blog how much I like Trevor Noah. I still really like Trevor Noah a lot and I think his heart is in the right place but this week, his views have been at odds with the views of many of the black feminist writers I follow and admire. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a stunning piece in The New Yorker (written before the Trevor Noah controversy) where she outlines the dangers of appeasement:

The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity.

On The Breakfast Club, Noah repeatedly stated that if we all just befriend people with racist views, we might change their minds. Again, it’s a nice sentiment and I understand where he is coming from. I wish solving racism were that simple. But that idea makes it seem like racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny are valid notions up for debate and that these views aren’t inherently dangerous. I have no intention of “breaking bread” with anyone who believes my life is worth less than theirs – and why should I have to?

Watch Trevor’s full interview with The Breakfast Club below.

Here's Trevor Noah on Watch What Happens Live last night. 

Photos:
Bravo/ Getty Images

Previous Article Next Article