Trevor Noah and the Desire for “Other” Blacks

When Comedy Central confirmed on Monday that Trevor Noah would be replacing The Daily Show host Jon Stewart, there was widespread support — myself included. Only a few hours later, some distasteful tweets came to light, revealing that the South African comedian made some not-too-cool jokes about women, Israel, and Asians.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.47.58 PM As someone who remains hyper-conscious about racial matters, I (surprisingly) wasn’t offended. My Blackness wasn’t the subject of his humor, and I recognize in that fact lies my partiality. But still, I wasn’t perturbed. And fortunately, I’m not alone, with many voicing their support of the comedian and his placement on the show.

Comedy Central has yet to comment. But when they do, I hope they steadfastly remain behind the decision, and recognize that this blip is a passing tide for folks to vent their subconscious discontent that a Black body will occupy space once controlled by a white man.

Yea, I said it.

Mega media hubs are opting for clickbait — appealing to the lowest denominator of people who look for any and every reason to discredit Trevor Noah, the mixed Black South African comedian who has also, in the past, been humorously critical of white supremacy.

With the quickness, a combined force exposed his unsavory digital remarks in a manner that leads me to think that, in some pockets, this was orchestrated.

For those who say he’s racially insensitive, this tweet sums it up best:

Trevor Noah will most likely fare this tidal wave. All the sheeple need is an apology, and then it’s on to the next faux-controversy, while actual stories of of racist oppression lay to the wayside.

But among Noah’s supporters, I also sense a troubling current; the desire to see an “Other” Black body take up the reins. Building on the exoticism and fetishization of Blackness, Noah provides both a refutation of American racism, while, in some ways, reinforcing it. Think of how white institutions produce ads starring fly-ridden Black African village children, in the hopes of stoking the white savior American middle-class pathos. The same middle-of-America-Bible-thumpers who tell American Blacks we’re lazy and are the perpetrators of our own oppression.

There’s a secret mantra for traveling while Black: nobody likes their own Blacks. Meaning, Black populations within a nation’s borders don’t enjoy the same cultural securities of visiting Blacks. In Italy, for example, American Black women are viewed as foreign romantic novelties, while African migrants are structurally isolated, economically oppressed, and politically maligned. African migrant women and children are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, sexual assault, and forced labor.

The sentiment is certainly true for the American landscape — every year intentioned white American college kids travel to the country of Africa to either pad their resumes or “find themselves,”and then return to gentrify Black neighborhoods.

With this backdrop, there’s Trevor Noah. Emphasizing his South African heritage under the violent system of racist apartheid, white media and white masses are commenting that he’ll bring a “fresh perspective” to Comedy Central given his roots. And I don’t discount that. I welcome his perspective. But I can’t help but think that there’s coded language which appeals to the mystique of “Other” Blackness.

Author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie captured this fixation with “Other” Blacks in her acclaimed novel Americanah. In talking about President Obama, main character Ifemelu surmises that American whites were keen on the then-candidate because he did not represent a Blackness they knew — his illustrious and unconventional upbringing as the mixed race child of a white single mother, with lived experiences in “exotic” locales like Hawaii, Indonesia, and Kenya, ultimately brewed into his electoral likability. He’s not like “them” … he’s different … he’s safe.

Black Americans come with “fresh perspective” especially in a sinewy media stratosphere unkind to and unfamiliar with Black American insight. With little representation or equity, Black American “perspective” could just as easily be as “fresh” as Trevor Noah’s.

So what are we left with? Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I still celebrate the choice to make Trevor Noah the next host of The Daily Show. But I also know that this choice came with strings that tug against the Black American experience.

*Feature Image Credit:

photo 1Arielle Newton, Founder/Editor-in-Chief. Get at me @arielle_newton. Get at us @BlkMillennials.

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92 responses to “Trevor Noah and the Desire for “Other” Blacks

  1. I think people forget the fact that he’s a comedian. Part of a comedian’s job is to push the envelope on politically sensitive subjects, like race. Cracking on stereotypes is part of what makes things funny. Does he really think that an Asian’s tears come out as mist because their eyes are so small? DOUBT it. In fact, I just shared the joke with a Chinese person who thought it was hilarious. I’ve been racially discriminated against by black people, white people and even Latins who are supposed to be my people. If I got up in arms about a comedian cracking a joke on Latin’s, I would be on anti-depressants. Trevor is making light of racism because he’s dealt with racism all his life. Life is far too short to be taken so seriously. Take it for what it is, a joke.


  2. I’m South African. We get Trevor’s humour. People take themselves way too seriously. He makes jokes about everyone, his own wacky mixed heritage included. He’s a comedian. It’s what they do.


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