I guess shaming folks into doing right on the Internet sometimes works. And I’m happy for y’all, but wait.
I am absolutely certain that all of these women are extremely talented and deserving of an opportunity to work for such a legendary show. Get that money. And folks “on the other side” will surely try to turn this into some fodder to discuss affirmative action or whatever. Fine. What I’m interested in, though, is how slick Lorne Michaels tried to get with this.
Back in the day when I’d leave home for a night or two for basketball trips or something else, my mom and/or I would go over a checklist, to make sure I had everything. I sort of feel like Lorne Michaels did that with his casting. If there were (is there?) some anti-racism checklist floating out there for “Hiring a black woman when you didn’t do it in the first place,” he consulted it–and used it in the hiring process. He made sure that each of his hires is brown-skinned, so folks won’t say anything about skin privilege. Zamata has natural hair, and a name white folks will act all confused when they see it on (digital) paper. As not to make her a token, he hired two more black women, both with ostensibly “black” names, so that anyone who doesn’t know how Google images works would know that he’s committed to diversity. In my mind, Lorne Michaels issued press releases describing the hires, took a couple of steps back, beat his chest, and said, “Now what y’all got to say?”
Well, I’m sure a bunch of folks will pat Lorne on the back and then say, this is a good start, but when are you going to cast a Latino, Asian, openly gay, trans*, etc. person(s)? And that’s fine. Saturday Night Live shouldn’t look like an old boys’ club, I suppose. But I think that it’s important to understand that although seeing yourself on television is important, so is moving beyond the practice of seeing yourself solely through easily discernible and codifiable markers. The issue with Saturday Night Live, isn’t that it’s full of white people, but that it’s been full of white people who aren’t funny. In other words, diversity that can be discerned by the gazer is important, but what’s being articulated is just as–if not more so–significant. Seriously, what was the point of it all if, six months from now, we’re debating the over/under on Zamata’s neck rolls per episode?
Indeed, the messenger is incredibly important, but so is the message. Actually, multiple messengers with varying messages should, it seems to me, be the goal. Otherwise we end up clinging on to and defending the sole messenger who has been permitted on stage. How else can we understand the way the president has been explained, or the deluge of Nerdland defenders who have seemingly forgotten that at the wellspring of that digression is a child who has essentially been used as a mascot by conservatives and liberals alike? Part of it, I think, is that we stop at those things that can be placed on a checklist. We cling to them and celebrate when we see their personifications on television, so that we can properly imagine ourselves there. As such, folks who go right on ignoring us until we complain, can hold auditions or conduct other quick fixes that are literally and figuratively surface level, and reap the benefits of a boost in television ratings while we pat ourselves on the back for social media activism well done.
I suppose that the silver lining is that black women now have to opportunity to be as unfunny as white people are on America’s longest running sketch comedy show. And I am sincerely glad for them, as individuals. Since the larger issues on display here are so deep and complicated, though, I am suspicious of such remedies. Call it pessimism, but I have great difficulty thinking such problems can be solved with such sitcom quickness. So maybe we should temper our celebrations and think about all of the ramifications of tuning in.