The situation, as it stands, is that Bill Maher apparently called himself a “house nigger” on a live broadcast last week with junior Nebraskan senator Ben Sasse. After Sasse remarked that he’d “love to have you [Maher] come in the fields to work with us”, Maher responded, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.”
Don’t even think about raising a rabble over whether he said “nigger” or “nigga”, either, because the people that raise that distinction are usually people that ain’t got no business whatsoever touching that word with a 39 1/2 foot pole, anyway.
Now class, how do we imagine that Mr. Maher’s jaunt down racy lane went?
This incident comes fresh off the high where he took credit for the downfall of noted skeev Milo Yiannopolous, saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Actually, it was a kabal of conservatives deeply opposed to Milo’s “locker room talk” in the form of advocating pedophilia, but ok, Bill, it was you. (Although, taking credit for someone else’s work after the fact isn’t…a super black move, is it, Mr. House Nigger?)
Maher was warned repeatedly that Milo had nothing to offer but his half-baked and vapid ruminations on how X group is destroying America, and he still booked and aired him on his show, citing himself as a defender of “free speech.” (Remind me again where it says that your free speech rights are abridged if you don’t get free publicity from a popular late-night show?)
However, despite these and other running controversies, we have to give Maher his credit where credit is due. Here, he is right.
Bill Maher is a house nigger.
The House Negro and The Field Negro
On January 23, 1963, Malcolm X gave a speech at Michigan State University entitled, “The House Negro and the Field Negro” and it is one of the most powerful descriptions of the power structures of slavery that remain present today.
So you have two types of Negro. The old type and the new type. Most of you know the old type. When you read about him in history during slavery he was called “Uncle Tom.” He was the house Negro. And during slavery you had two Negroes. You had the house Negro and the field Negro.
He goes on to explain the difference in priorities between a house negro and a field negro.
When the house started burning down, that type of [house] Negro would fight harder to put the master’s house out than the master himself would.
But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses–the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he’d die. [Laughter] If his house caught on fire, they’d pray for a wind to come along and fan the breeze.
This speech lays out a difference in where the house negro and the field negro see themselves in relation to power. The house negro is power-adjacent, and in the illustrious words of Frank Underwood, “Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it.”
The house negro is less sympathetic to the plight of the field negro, given that the same things that disadvantage one advantage the other. The house negro is willing to be complicit in structures of power because the proximity to that power that gives them creature comforts. And when it comes time to ween themselves from said power, a house negro is willing to choose submission over subversion.
Bill Maher makes a living and a show based on the idea that he’s fighting for the little guy, but the thesis of his response to criticisms about his use of a hotly contested word is, “I’m on your side, so shut up and let me do what I want.”
Wayne Brady has before addressed Maher’s unfortunate tendency to think that he’s “down” with the black experience because he’s had some dark covfefe before:
Maher’s shown multiple times that he resents being told what is the best way to ally himself to those he considers himself an ally to, opting instead for his own personal model of allyship, one that may not adequately represent the needs or desires of the groups he claims to fight for, be it black, LGBT, or women.
Here’s the thing with “woke” white people: They are never required to surrender their passport to WhiteLandia, even while discussing racial issues. Even while being with black women. Even while using black culture to propel your career forward (lookin’ at you, Miley and Katy.)
While it may be good and fun, exciting, or garner ratings for Maher, whenever he’s fighting racist intolerance and bigotry, he’s stepping into it. I wake up into it. Bill Maher has to be black for an hour sometimes – I been black for 26 years straight.
And if he’s not willing to listen to black people, if he’s willing to be complicit in the use of a word with a mangled history, if he’s willing to co-opt the history of people that actually experienced the devastating original sin of America that was slavery for a joke that wasn’t even that good, maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s a house nigger.
Personally, I’m still praying for a stiff breeze.
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Photographer: David Shankbone