bill maher has been racist & sexist, his “house ni**er” comment is just the latest example

June 5, 2017

Bill Maher, white liberal comedian and host of HBO’s Real Time, is facing backlash and calls for his firing after using the word “nigger” on his show last week. The comment came in response to his guest Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who invited Maher to “come work in the fields” in Nebraska.

“Work in the fields?” Maher replied, “Senator, I’m a house nigger.” The audience, accustomed to this sort of offensive humor for reasons outlined below, broke out in applause and laughter. Activist Deray Mckesson posted the clip and argued the comedian “has got to go” in a tweet:

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

Maher has since apologized in a statement to the media, claiming, “I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment […] The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry.” HBO also stated that Maher’s comment was “inexcusable” and that they will remove the exchange from future airings of the episode.

But Maher did not just wake up one day and decide to be racist. His “house nigger” comment comes in a long line of anti-Black racism, sexism, transphobia, and Islamophobia. As Emily Q. Hazzard pointed out in an article for Think Progress, Maher’s bigotry runs the gamut from asking a Pakistani member of a boy band where he was during the Boston Bombing, repeatedly attacking the Quran, suggesting millions of Muslims supported the Charlie Hebdo attack, repeatedly calling women “bitches,” cheering a football player for allegedly choking his girlfriend (saying “the surprise is that someone hasn’t choked this bitch sooner”), claiming that “If Trump was a man, he’d stop whining like a little bitch. #LadyTrump,” defending Bill O’Reilly’s racist and sexist joke about Rep. Maxine Waters’ hair, bonding with white supremacist and pedophile-defender Milo Yiannopoulos over transphobia, joking that recording an interview with Caitlyn Jenner was ironic because his TiVo “also cuts things off,” and comparing drinking on St. Patrick’s Day to stereotyping Black people for buying lobster with food stamps––to name a few (Hazzard’s article contains clips of each incident).

As I wrote in an article in 2014, Maher’s bigotry is a common form of white liberalism, more interested in progressive language than deeds. Though we have written certain words off limits, the violence underlying overt forms of racism, sexism and other isms are far from prohibited. That HBO is only now moving to distance itself from Maher after all of the aforementioned incidents is telling. Some have even argued that it shows the invisibility of the Muslim struggle, seeing as Muslims were, arguably, Maher’s biggest target throughout his career, but no equivalent repercussions occured.

But what should be clear is that it wasn’t Maher’s bigotry––including anti-Black bigotry––that has him under fire now. The comedian is facing backlash because white liberalism makes lightning-rod terms the problem in order to deflect from the structures beneath them. In this way, whiteness retains its place in society under the guise of “progress.” Black people were also (rightly) offended when Maher called misogynoir a “bullshit issue”, or, more recently, offended by his anti-Black exchange with Cornel West, but those offenses do not register in the white liberal imagination. To this day, these other incidents are still not “inexcusable” or “regrettable,” which is why HBO and Maher’s apologies are both still inadequate.

Maher’s act was reprehensible well before he said “nigger” out loud, for he had indirectly said it and many other slurs in so many other ways already. Real progress requires holding folks accountable before they cross a line that even the far right can be outraged about. Because only sometimes is that line a word––but too often for Black people it is our death.

Banner photo via Huffington Post

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.