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Bill Maher, Kevin Hart, Bryant Gumbel -- and "Progressophobia"
And why I walked away from HBO's "Real Sports" after 22 years as a correspondent.
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Last December, on its year-end show, correspondents on the HBO program “Real Sports” (of which I was one) got together in a virtual roundtable to discuss the issues of 2020. It didn’t take long for the subject to turn to social justice activism among athletes.
I told the show’s host, Bryant Gumbel, that I recently tuned in to watch a National Hockey League playoff game and heard a player, at a pre-game ceremony, say that, “racism is everywhere.”
I told Gumbel that since I didn’t tune in to get a lecture on what a racist country America is, I changed the channel. To which Bryant replied: “Racism is everywhere.”
I’ll get back to Bryant in a moment, but first let’s move on to a recent interview comedian Kevin Hart did with the New York Times in which he said, “You’re witnessing white power and white privilege at an all-time high. For those who say they don’t understand that, or don’t see it, or are confused as to what that means, I’m going to say you’re a part of the problem.”
Enter Bill Maher, the comedian who makes a living taking aim at what he sees as absurdities in our culture and who -- despite his own left of center politics -- isn’t buying what Kevin Hart (or Bryant Gumbel for that matter) is selling.
Here’s Maher on a recent episode of “Real Time” on HBO: “I understand best I can how racism singes a person’s soul so much they might see it everywhere. But seeing clearly is necessary for actually fixing problems, and clearly racism is no longer everywhere.”
So while we may understand what motivated Bryant Gumbel to conclude that “racism is everywhere” and for Kevin Hart to think that “white power and white privilege are at an all-time high” … and while we understand that black people and white people have different histories and see some things differently … let me nonetheless state what I believe is the obvious: Mr. Hart and Mr. Gumbel are both wrong.
In fact, as bad as things were, racism was never everywhere, not in this country anyway. It was never in the hearts of the abolitionists. Never in the hearts of those brave Americans who challenged Jim Crow and fought, often at great peril, for civil rights. I know it’s not everywhere because it’s not in my house. It’s not in the homes of my closest friends. Does racism still exist in America, a country of more than 300 million people? Unfortunately, yes, in some dark places. But, despite Bryant Gumbel’s contention … it’s not everywhere.
As for Kevin Hart: “Saying white power and privilege is at an all-time high is just ridiculous,” Maher said. “Higher than a century ago, the year of the Tulsa race massacre? Higher than when the KKK rode unchecked and Jim Crow unchallenged?”
I get the impression that more than a few African Americans -- and their woke white progressive allies -- are still looking at America through their rear view mirror, that they either are blind to the progress we’ve made in this country or for whatever reason choose to ignore it.
Maher called this “progressophobia,” a term he defines as “a brain disorder that strikes liberals and makes them incapable of recognizing progress. It’s like situational blindness, only what you can’t see is that your dorm in 2021 is better than the South before the Civil War.”
Are they aware for example, as Bill Maher informed his audience, that, “In a country that’s 14% black, 18% of the incoming class at Harvard is black. And since 2017, white students are not even a majority in our public colleges. Employees of color make up 47% of Microsoft, 50% of Target, 55% of the Gap, as companies become desperate to look like their TV commercials.”
Doesn’t that refute, or at least put a great big dent into, the charge that “racism is everywhere” and that “white power and white privilege are at an all-time high”?
That year-end “Real Sports” show was my last. A few weeks later I walked away after 22 years as a correspondent. I didn’t want to be part of a team whose most prominent voice thinks that, “racism is everywhere,” and where the other 5 correspondents -- whose politics range from liberal to hard-left progressive – just sat there and said nothing.
Maybe Bryant didn’t mean it the way it came out. Maybe he meant that there are remnants of racism that still infect American culture – not that out-and-out racism is everywhere. But if that’s what he meant, he should have said it.
“This is one of the big problems with wokeness, that what you say doesn’t have to make sense or jibe with the facts, or ever be challenged, lest the challenge itself be conflated with racism.” That’s how Bill Maher sees it. And I suspect so do a lot of other Americans.
Maybe the evils of slavery and segregation have left some people with a kind of paranoia, what Bill Maher calls, “a brain disorder that strikes liberals and makes them incapable of recognizing progress.” Maybe.
But there’s also good news: White power and white privilege are not at an all-time high, and racism is not everywhere – no matter what Bryant Gumbel, Kevin Hart, and the progressive woke crowd believe.
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