We don’t need to be. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of that.
When Tom Hanks portrayed a white Donald Trump supporter on Saturday Night Live’s fictitious “Black Jeopardy” over the weekend, you might have expected the writers to mercilessly skewer the Republican nominee’s fans. They didn’t. This skit was different.
In a laugh-out-loud clip that continued to make social media rounds on Sunday and Monday, SNL showed that black and white Americans—even those currently cemented in either the Hillary Clinton or Trump camps—probably have far more in common than our contentious politics reflects.
Playing Jeopardy host, SNL’s Kenan Thompson (“Darnell”) was joined by “contestants” Leslie Jones (“Shanice”) and Shasheer Zamata (“Keeley”)—an all black cast—except for Tom Hanks (“Doug”) who was decked out in an American flag shirt and Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” red baseball cap.
After initial discomfort with having a white Trump supporter in their midst, the black players eventually came to see a regular guy who culturally wasn’t much different from them. Everyone agreed on the importance of saving a buck, their shared suspicion of the government, and Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies.
“I bought a box set at Wal-Mart, and I tell ya, if I can laugh, and pray, in 90 minutes, that is money well-spent,” Doug tells Darnell. The host was so impressed he walked over to shake Doug’s hand. The women contestants high-five Doug. It was a hilarious love-in. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time no matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum.
At the end of the skit, they get to the last category “Lives That Matter” “Well it was good while it lasted Doug!” Host Darnell says. “I got a lot to say about this,” Doug jumps in. “I’m sure you do, when we come back…” Darnell abruptly cuts off Doug.
It was one of the funniest SNL skits in recent memory. It was also poignant.
Many of my friends sharing this clip on Facebook and Twitter said “Doug” was their dad. Hanks’ character was certainly like many I know who are supporting Trump in this election: older, white, male, middle class, sick of political correctness, but not racist. Many are simply eager for something to change for the better. To them, Trump sounds like he has different answers than the typical politician. Most of these voters are not coming from a place of hate.
Many Americans—even those like me who aren’t voting for Trump (or Clinton)—saw people we know and love in Hank’s character, Doug.
Just like many black Americans undoubtedly see their own family members every time another unarmed black person is gunned down by police. Republican Senator Tim Scott performed a service in July when he spoke about the reality of racial bias in how law enforcement is applied, mentioning Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Philando Castile—all black men who lost their lives during questionable police altercations.
“These are people lost forever. Fathers, brothers, sons,” Scott said.
Sen. Scott’s speech was heroic because as a popular black conservative, he has the ear of much of the Trump audience—whites whose first impulse might be to dismiss black victims of police as a criminals or “thugs” instead of flesh-and-blood human beings with families who love them.
This attitude mirrors Hillary Clinton supporters and those on the left who prefer to lump all Trump supporters together as cretinous bigots. It’s both inaccurate and unnecessarily divisive.
Worse, it’s dehumanizing. Ignorance usually is.
When Doug was eager to express his opinion about “Lives That Matter,” Darnell instinctively didn’t want to hear his answer despite everyone having a rollicking good time until that moment. Even comically, it’s a divide that both sides knew would be an impasse.
We all laugh because we also know it’s true. It doesn’t have to be. There’s nothing impossible about the notion that Americans should try to better understand where their fellow countrymen of different backgrounds are coming from, whether it’s black lives mattering or the plight of the white working class.
Suggesting this might sound naïve to some. Perhaps. But so is seeking a saner politics, something that never materializes yet still doesn’t stop millions of voters from trying every few years.
We should try to understand before we judge. We should listen before we yell. We should see people before politics. It really is this simple, in theory if not in practice.
Laughing helps too.