Jerry Seinfeld’s comments: Black comedy and white privilege

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld holds a tremendous amount of weight in Hollywood in general and in the world of comedy, specifically. The former sitcom star and stand-up legend is arguably the most successful comedian in the world, with an estimated worth of $800 million. However, Seinfeld came under scrutiny recently for his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” On the show, Jerry interviews notable funnymen about their life and career while driving around in vintage cars and getting coffee. Currently in its third run, the show has noticeably focused on white males in terms of who has been featured. During a recent interview with Buzzfeed on “CBS This Morning,” the comedian snapped at the interviewer after he was asked about the lack of diversity amongst his chosen interviewees.

“Oh, this really pisses me off,” Seinfeld exclaimed. “People think it’s the census or something, it’s got to represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares? It’s just funny. Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that… To me, it’s anti-comedy… PC nonsense.”

Of course, Seinfeld’s comments drew a significant amount of criticism–as they should.

Seinfeld’s position of “Funny is the world that I live in” is, at best, oblivious; and at worst, completely delusional. It’s rooted in the same wrongheaded liberalism that encourages Americans to “not see race or color.” If a person can’t or doesn’t supposedly see race, then how can they see racism? That’s the conundrum in Jerry Seinfeld’s position. He operates from a position of privilege and chooses to not recognize that he is in that position.

Saying “I don’t see race and gender” while inviting mostly white males to your show is indicative of why race is still a major issue in America. Too often, we’re taught that racism only manifests itself with burning crosses and Trayvon Martin and the N-word. But where the race issue really takes hold is in thinking such as Jerry Seinfeld’s:  the idea that “I’m not racist–I just prefer white ______.” To be clear, personal and cultural preferences are a part of all of our lives. I know many black people who, if you asked them, would list their five favorite comedians and all five would likely be black. But when you’re Jerry Seinfeld–or, say, “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels–you have to recognize the position that you are in.

These white men who claim not to see race are gatekeepers in the world of comedy. Being featured on and endorsed by Jerry Seinfeld’s show is a tremendous boon for any comedian–just as being a cast member on “SNL” can open the door to a host of other career possibilities. So when those who are invited to the table are mostly white and male, it means that black, Latino, Asian or female comedians will remain niche. They will remain an “other.”

Saying “I only see funny” when most of what you book are white guys means that apparently you mostly think white guys are funny. Which may be true and is completely your preference. But when you hold as much clout as a Jerry Seinfeld, sometimes it’s more important to look at the bigger picture.

You should see race in this situation, Jerry. If you saw it, you’d understand that you have a responsibility to help override it–despite your personal tastes.

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