The Stuff You Can Learn From Late Night TV

Since it’s Friday, I thought I ought to post something short. This video made me laugh out loud.

It’s made the rounds so you’ve may have already seen it, but it’s the kind of thing that deserves multiple looks. And it’s gotta be one of the best things to happen on late night talk TV in a while.

Louis C.K.’s point about slavery being just “two 70-year old ladies living and dying back to back” behind us in history is a good one, especially in light of what’s happened since abolition.

We’re one of those old lady’s middle aged younger sister away from the end of the neo-slavery of the chain gang. The Black Codes that were used to drive black men onto chain gangs kept hundreds of thousands of black people stuck by fear within the employ of bosses who were once their masters, and allowed those bosses to wield such power that it was as though, for many, emancipation was purely theoretical.

And it is within that same younger sister’s lifetime that our federal government finally acknowledged the human rights crisis of widespread lynchings in the South. Less time has passed since Jim Crow fell and we finally secured voting rights for African Americans. And today, right now, those rights are being re-litigated in our courts, and Republican state leaders are trying to put barriers between minority voters and the ballot box.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Neo-slavery isn’t really over. A visit to the Lousiana State Prison aka Angola is all it takes to dissuade one of that notion. Angola is basically a forced labor camp. Demographically, it looks a lot like the plantation it once was, and those who end up there often serve de facto life sentences because the conditions are so harsh, and the system is broken by corruption and racism.

And Louis C.K.’s last words are more than just a punchline. In fact, they explain some of the anger behind the willful ignorance of the white racists he’s making fun of. When he says that white people had hard events happen to them, too, and references having their slaves taken away, he’s onto something important. The fact is, Southern power lay in slavery. Slaves were not just free labor, they represented capital, and lots of it. The North may have been richer overall during slavery, but the South contained most of the country’s largest private fortunes. It was upon those fortunes, many of which were destroyed by abolition, that the posterity of the region rested.

But my favorite line is the one where C.K. says we ought to show some respect to black people (and I’ll add other people of color) with grey hair in deference to what they’ve been through in their lifetimes. Folk my age and older remember when some of us couldn’t vote, and our president (Nixon) was a white supremacist who regularly, though in private, used the “n” word while contemplating methods of keeping black people from acquiring political power he believed they lacked the intellectual capacity to wield wisely. We remember teachers who assumed we were “slow” and thought that was fine and didn’t push us much because they figured we were headed toward manual labor anyway.

We know that those who believe in lies like “reverse discrimination” have no idea how one’s life is affected by real discrimination. They’re either willfully ignorant or too enveloped in privilege to have any meaningful understanding of racism and discrimination at all.

Thanks for the yucks, Louis C.K. Happy weekend.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

2 replies on “The Stuff You Can Learn From Late Night TV”

When I was a little girl, I had an elderly relative who saw Lincoln’s funeral train. I use that illustration when talking to the “get over it already” folks.

Have you heard his bit about how great it is to be white and why black people don’t want anything to do with a time machine? And, BTW, Louis is Mexicano…always seems to be a shock to people interviewing him. He is hilarious.

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