Last week perpetual white guy, raging anti-semite and not-so-closeted racist Bill Maher casually referred to himself as a “house ni**a” on his “Real Time” show and was summarily raked through the coals for it. And of course, “raked through the coals” is a relative term because white men rarely face any real consequences for insulting other groups of people. So really, he was just slapped on the wrist by people on Twitter and met with a sternly worded letter by HBO. Other than that, he’s just fine. Maher tried to rectify the situation by inviting 75 percent of the black people he knows that he didn’t meet through Karrine Steffans onto his show.
The results only made things worse.
First Maher spoke to bestie Michael Eric Dyson about his upbringing by using the tried and true racist white guy trope: race wasn’t an issue where I grew up.
Let’s get this straight. If you grew up in America, whether it’s Tupelo, Mississippi, Los Angeles, California or Newark, New Jersey, race was absolutely an issue where you grew up and it damn sure came up in conversation. If you feel differently, that’s because you’re privileged (see: white) enough to not have had to deal with it. Later in the show, Symone Sanders and Ice Cube came on the show to further check Maher on his use of the word. Of course, as usual, Cube and Sanders are on point.
However they both leaned on a phrase that bothered me: this is a teachable moment. The phrase has been used ad nauseam as of late when white people say or do something blatantly racist, homophobic or antisemitic. “Teachable moment” implies that the culprit of said insensitivity did so unintentionally and they need to be educated about their wrongdoings. And it’s generally the subjugated people who have to do the educating.
F*** that noise.
Bill Maher is beyond teachable moments. He’s been espousing the idea that white people should be able to use the N-word since at least 2001 when he not only repeated the word a dozen times, he silenced Anne-Marie Johnson, a black woman, who tried to offer him a “teachable moment” and even questioned her blackness. That was Maher’s chance to be taught. And he ignored it, instead he lived with a mentality that he should be able to say the N-word and never relented, finally convincing himself he could say it again on TV in 2017, as well as perpetuating hateful comments about Islam and blackness. That’s why Bill Maher doesn’t get any teachable moments. He had his chance. He ignored it. F*** him.
In a general sense, it’s time to bury the idea of teachable moments for good. Take the N-word for example. Anyone in the age of Google, Twitter and working WIFI should know by now why black people can use the word and white people can’t. It takes two seconds to find out the answer.
That’s why it’s absurd for someone to feel informed enough to spout ignorance without taking time to get educated. I can do a quick Google and find a serviceable amount of information on a topic to speak on it without reciting hate speech or mimicking violent language. Therefore I don’t need any damn teachable moments. Anyone who does otherwise is being willfully ignorant and activating their privilege to say what they want without caring about who it impacts. Teachable moments and the desire to turn racism into easily-solved Family Matters segments is how people like Bill Maher get a pass for their racism. It’s how Tory Lanez feels like spending $35,000 at a store that treated him with racism is some sort of gotcha lesson. And it’s how Katy Perry thinking that suddenly admitting to her racism gives her a pass to go on with her life. Teachable moments are simply hall passes for white folks to sit in front of black people hat-in-hand and get forgiven for racism without having to face any real consequences for their actions.
You know what’s a real teachable moment for Bill Maher? Strip him of his show and make him work his way back onto television. Then he can learn that his words have meaning and that he can’t live a life full of unending second chances. Because there’s no such thing as a teachable moment without real life consequences for the rest of us. Bill Maher and his peers don’t deserve teachable moments. Because he’s been taught. Repeatedly. It’s his own fault for not listening.