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Jon Stewart is back in the spotlight and he has a lot to say about the state of the country.
The former Daily Show host is featured in a lengthy New York Times Magazine Q&A for the “Talk” column published Monday, in part to promote his upcoming political satire film Irresistible, which he both wrote and directed, out June 26.
The Times‘ David Marchese began the interview by asking Stewart for his thoughts on modern-day America, specifically the widespread anti-racism protests in the wake of May 25 killing of George Floyd, now in their third week. Stewart said the wrong problem was being addressed concerning police brutality.
“This is a cycle, and I feel that in some ways, the issue is that we’re addressing the wrong problem,” Stewart began. “We continue to make this about the police — the how of it. How can they police? Is it about sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing? All that can make for a less-egregious relationship between the police and people of color. But the how isn’t as important as the why, which we never address.”
He continued, “The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don’t address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ‘I’m tired of everything being about race.’ Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.”
The comedian and 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund activist said that, in his opinion, it remains unclear whether these protests will finally bring about the change the country so desperately requires.
“Look, every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood,” he told the magazine. “Then, when that’s over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing. There’s always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it’s white people’s lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem.”
Quoting a bit from one of his friends and fellow comics, Chris Rock, (“No white person wants to change places with a black person. They don’t even want to exchange places with me, and I’m rich.”) Stewart told Marchese white people think they know what it’s like to be in the other race’s shoes, but they don’t.
“And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing,” Stewart said. “You know, we’re in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed with rifles, shouting: ‘Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I’m not going to wear a mask, because that’s tyranny!’ That’s six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them.”
“It’s going to be: What is America’s greatness?” Stewart maintained. “You have to fight on those terms, and that’s an opportunity to define what you believe is our greatness. Now, that’s not to say the political consultants won’t say to Biden, ‘You need to define your own lane.’ But he doesn’t. The road is built.”
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