I like Wayne Brady a lot. I’ve liked him a lot since the first moment I saw him on Whose Line is it Anyway? (and am so happy he’ll be joining the show’s new incarnation this summer), and have continued to like him a lot in dramatic roles (the much-lamented Kevin Hill comes to mind), in self-effacing roles (thank you, Dave Chapelle) — hell, I even like the man in commercials. Between the singing, the dancing, the acting, and the comedy, he is a phenomenal talent and I will never understand why he isn’t more of a household name. Get on that America!
Ok, I think I understand part of why Brady isn’t more of a household name.
a) He’s a minority entertainer and (as a long list of minority entertainers can attest) while it’s hard for anyone to follow their passion, it’s even harder for people of color in the entertainment business, and b) he’s a black man who doesn’t present as angry or threatening or magical, and Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with black men who don’t present as angry or threatening or magical.
Which is, in turn, why he’s often the butt of people’s utterly unimaginative jokes about non-threatening black men. Bill Maher, for instance, often uses the name “Wayne Brady” as a kind of shorthand for “black man who doesn’t fit the stereotype that I like to employ when talking about Real Black Men.”
Bill Maher, on the other hand, is a bona fide bigot, and of the worst kind — the self-satisfied, ostensibly liberal kind. The kind that thinks its ok to be a misogynist, or an Islamophobe, or to make sweeping and destructive statements about what Real Black Men are like, statements that traffic in the dehumanization of whole segments of society, because it’s just a joke. Or because any right-thinking liberal would hate Muslims, because, ewww Muslims, mirite? Because he’s high on his own fumes, basically.
So, to sum up: I really like Wayne Brady, and I really dislike Bill Maher.
Thus, when I saw that Wayne Brady was publicly responding to Maher’s bigotry, I was initially thrilled, because come on now. It’s enough already! Bill Maher is an uber-wealthy, influential, straight white dude happily ensconced in America’s entertainment elite — making jokes at the expense of anyone who is not in (roughly) the same position is ugly and lazy. Speak truth to power, Bill, I know you can! But stop using people as props in your apparently endless display of smug self-regard. Please.
Then I watched the interview Brady gave to Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live, and here’s the thing. I’m with him — I’m so totally with him! — except for one thing. See if you can spot it:
When [Maher] starts to drag me in to use me as the cultural lynch-pin in his “[Barack Obama's] not black enough” argument, that’s bullshit. Because a) Bill Maher has never walked in my shoes, nor in any black man’s shoes… Just because you’ve been with a black woman or two, and I’ve seen some of them, it’s questionable if they were women, just because you’ve done that…now you lived the black experience? Oh, now you’re down? No.
Dude, come on!
I do not know the black experience, male or female. But I know bigotry when I see it, and gay/trans*-bashing in the course of telling someone to drop their racist bullshit is just not ok. Not ok! Not even remotely, a teeny-tiny bit, ok.
I don’t get handed a get-out-of-jail-free card if I say something racist because I’m a woman and I’ve lived with misogyny; gay folks don’t get handed get-out-of-jail-free cards if they launch into a step-and-fetch-it act. And black comedians are no more handed get-out-of-jail-free cards for homo- and/or transphobic jokes than anyone else (not to mention the misogyny inherent in the quip. It was a very, very full quip).
Mr. Brady — you’re incredibly talented. Overwhelmingly talented. Gobsmackingly talented. Moreover, you’re absolutely right about Bill Maher, I know you’re on the side of the angels when it comes to LGBTQ rights, and I suspect you’re on the side of the angels when it comes to women’s rights.
But it is lazy, unkind, and bigoted to prop your laughs on sweeping and destructive cultural attitudes about Real Women, attitudes that trade in the dehumanization of LGBTQ people and What Real Women Should Look Like and Who Real Men Date. So please — stop. And if you have a moment, you might even apologize. Because aside from anything else, and not to put too fine a point on it, but stuff like that feeds into an atmosphere that literally gets people killed.