Wilmore Says ‘Take the Damn Flag Down Right Now’ — But at What Cost?


Like every other late night talk show host, Larry Wilmore tackled the two biggest “hot button” targets on Monday night’s The Nightly Show — Obama’s use of the “n-word” during his conversation with Marc Maron, and the Confederate flag debate in South Carolina. The latter is especially prescient, as Wilmore dedicated a seven-minute segment to the history of the flag, its current use on the capitol grounds in Charleston, and whether or not there should even be a debate.

His “Enough Already” segments begins, unsurprisingly, with a montage of 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls sounding off on a single chorus — it’s up to the people of South Carolina, and not for a candidate for federal office to discuss. True enough, for as Wilmore jokingly observes, “States’ choice is the classic presidential cop-out.”

Mike HuckabeeMarco RubioGeorge Pataki and Rick Santorum are all included. And kudos to Wilmore’s team for the selection. No, Seriously! (I mean, we haven’t covered anything Pataki has said or done since June 2.) Yet while it serves the jokes that follow, it’s unfortunate that The Nightly Show decided to take these clips — some of them mere seconds long — out context, especially given his Obama segment later in the show was all about context.

But that’s fine. Satire isn’t meant to be complete — it’s just meant to ridicule with humor in light of a specific topic, and Wilmore’s “Enough Already” segment does just that.

Hell, even South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — who announced on Monday that she wants the state legislature to consider removing the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds — was subject to Wilmore’s comedic ire. Or at least that’s how his “For The Record” portion of the bit began:

I tell you what, let me give you guys a little unsolicited advice. Okay? How about this. How about just take the damn flag down right now? Hear me out. And then you can debate putting it back up. How about that? I know as governor, you have to follow the rules. I get that. But you’re a South Carolina governor. There are no rules for you guys.

It’s a great setup for a Mark Sanford joke, to be sure, but then Wilmore gets into the meat of the debate:

We’re not talking about an official government flag. We’re talking about a relic that has no purpose anymore. It’s decorative. You don’t need a declaration to remove a decoration.

Then, in one of the most eye-opening TIL bits of political coverage in recent memory, The Nightly Show reviews the flag’s “heritage” with a nod to Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens“cornerstone speech,” the silliness of the “but it’s our heritage” argument, and the fact that the “stars and bars” hasn’t been flying high on the capitol grounds since the Civil War. (It was first hung in 1961 to mark the war’s centennial, which was also right around the time of the Civil Rights movement.) Add Wilmore’s final touch with his trivia about European neo-Nazis using the Confederate flag en lieu of Nazi swastikas, and you’ve got yourself a helluva piece.

That is, until Wilmore drops this particular knowledge bomb:

For the record, I get it that plenty of honorable people have fuzzy feelings about the Confederate flag, but that’s irrelevant. Their nostalgia will never trump the people who see it as a symbol of hate. And for a state to fly this flag, that hate is the message they send to their people.

Do people have “fuzzy feelings” for the Confederate flag? Yes.

Do others “see it as a symbol of hate”? Absolutely.

Does the interpretation of hatred absolutely overrule any and all other possibilities? Um…

To adopt an approach Wilmore made reference to several times in the episode, it depends on the context. Considering the past and current context of the Confederate flag, I agree with the host’s point here. However, its immediate implication is a very, very dangerous idea — one that Jerry Seinfeld and other comedians have recently been harping on, though it’s much older than they are.

As should be obvious, a symbol associated with racial hatred and oppression ≠ a joke. The distance between the two couldn’t be any further than it already is. However, the basic structure of Wilmore’s argument above asserts that those negatively affected by something will always have more of a right than those who are positively affected by the same something.

So if a person is particularly offended by a comedian’s joke about religion, politics or any number of other “hot button” items, then does this mean they will always have the upper hand? Or if a person’s statement on a particularly volatile topic rubs a group of people the wrong way, do those people get the last word?

If you’re immediate inclination is to not look past the immediate context of Wilmore’s argument and agree with him 100%, I invite you to revisit our coverage of the French magazine Charlie Hedbo.

Check out the final clip below, courtesy of Comedy Central:

[Image via screengrab]

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