I have to be honest. I’m really not sure I want Bill Maher fired for the snarky “house n***er” gaffe.
First of all, because Bill Maher has said a whole lot of really, really bad things over the years, and he wasn’t fired for any of them.
And second, because Maher’s problem isn’t what he says, it’s why and how he says what he says. He’s his own worst enemy, that man. And he can’t see it to save his life. He’s the proverbial tragic hero. You want to like and care about him. But…
I mean, I watch his show every week. I vow never to watch it again almost as often. His smugness, the myriad blind spots — if you’re a regular, you know what I mean.
He truly believes Islam is inherently evil and Muslims are predisposed to violence because of it. Anyone who doesn’t agree gets snarked to death or cut off with, “Well, anyway, it’s time for New Rules,” before they can answer.
He also insults followers of other religions who, he insists, are deluded idiots who believe in “fairy tales.” I’m one of those believers, by the way. I know how to parse those “fairy tales.” There’s way more to them than he knows. Or cares to know.
I’ve never even tried to communicate with him — I could, but I just haven’t bothered. Because Maher’s so full of himself that there’s no room for any “light” to get in.
Now and then someone hits him pretty hard and he flusters and fidgets, but he returns to the same “themes” over and over and over again anyway. Even his live audiences sigh and “hiss” sometimes. And he berates them, too.
Look, he’s even got this coffee mug that says, “But I’m Not Wrong.” Nuff said, right?
But there’s a part of me that really likes the guy. His show reminds me of arguments I had with my father, a man I respected and loved more than anyone else on the planet, back when I was a college student participating in what my dad considered “unpatriotic” demonstrations against the Vietnam war all the time.
Dad was a WWII vet who had often decried the inequality he faced as a Black man in the white man’s military at that time in history. They gave him brooms, not guns. Made him work in the kitchen, not in the trenches. Until things got particularly rough, that is.
So he stole food from the Army and gave it to destitute locals in Normandy, who, when I visited decades later, still remembered “Easy,” the Black soldier who had fed them everyday. One woman pointed to my freckled nose — seeing his nose on my face — and squealed his nickname with tears in her eyes. That said it all.
After the war, he always ended the Pledge of Allegiance with, “And liberty and justice for y’all.” Winking at me on the “y’all.”
But he was also, by the time I went to college, a “self-made” Black man who was sure, having traveled the world via the military, that America was the only place where a Black man could do what he’d done.
He really believed that living well really was the best revenge. And he wanted me to take all that anger and make it into a life that could not be ignored. A life that would teach the dominant society a lesson it couldn’t forget.
I agreed. But there was this ugly war killing a whole lot of young Black and brown and other men “of color” who wouldn’t get the chance to do that. They didn’t have time to wait.
So we butted heads about once a week in the living room, usually after the 5 o’clock news. Each of us getting louder and louder and less and less rational until one of us would blurt out something so completely ridiculous that we couldn’t help but laugh.
They were more than just arguments. I was individuating and my father, my best buddy, was grieving the loss of his doting daughter.
But those living room battles also taught me something very important. I didn’t have to agree with everything my father said to love him. In fact, I screamed so loud because I loved him. And I needed the man I adored to hear me — to really know me. It mattered more than anything.
So did the laughter, after. And the hug that usually ended the battle. I was just a “crazy hippie,” he’d say. But I was his crazy hippie.
I could live with that.
Somehow this Maher mess really does remind me of that. Now, I don’t love Maher that way. I’m not even sure I respect him. He upsets and insults me too often. I can’t ignore that.
But I don’t have to agree with him to understand the value of his show. Or to feel that we need it for some reason I can’t even articulate all that well. Especially now, we need it.
I don’t know.
And nobody asked me, either. But I think at this particular time in America, we have to think deeply about these things.
I knew he’d blow it one day, that’s all I know for sure. And I hope he learns something valuable from all this the way I learned so much from those father/daughter skirmishes back when.
Maybe we all will.
This post first appeared on Medium, via Extra Newsfeed