Late-night host Bill Maher issued a cookie-cutter apology following his use of the N-word on his talk show Friday night — a lame follow-up to what he described as “a joke.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) appeared on his show “Real Time” and suggested Maher visit his state of Nebraska.
“You’re welcome,” Sasse said. “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”
Maher responded, with his hands up, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n*****.”
On Saturday Maher gave a standard, textbook apology.
“The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry,” he said in part.
Some people came to Maher’s defense, including CNN host Larry King, who was among many that suggested the public dismiss the incident.
King said that “there’s not a racist bone in his body.”
“Let’s accept his apology and move on,” said King.
But aside from Maher’s long history of making hate-filled remarks, his immediate reaction after saying the word is telling of his lack of understanding.
“It’s a joke,” Maher said almost immediately after his remark.
His rush to denounce his use of the N-word as “a joke” suggests he knew he would face backlash — and his next reaction suggests he did not believe his word choice warranted criticism.
When Maher’s poor excuse was met with applause, he said, “Thank you.” This small but telling response suggests that Maher does not in fact understand that not using that word is about much more than being “politically correct.”
In response to reactions such as King’s, and others that deemed those offended as giving into a time of political correctness, “OpEd: Dear Bill Maher, You Dropped the N-Word. I’m Breaking Up With You” was published on NBC News. Writer Jarrett Hill describes himself as a former avid watcher of Maher’s “Real Time” but says that Friday’s incident changed that.
According to Hill, many people are in fact “hyper-sensitive” in today’s racially charged climate — “but there’s a reason for it”:
“Many of us — ‘us’ being marginalized and minority communities — feel under attack, and hyper-sensitivity is a side-effect. You don’t know what it’s like to see people who look like you cut-down by police week after week with little-to-no consequence and for the government to be lead by people who don’t even see your life as valuable.
“… So while you’ve made millions on your brand of being politically incorrect, and many of us have watched you, learned from you, laughed with you, and maybe taken issue from time to time with what you’ve said, it may behoove you to think about how much you’re starting to reflect the president you’ve been railing against.
“And while you may think you’re not anything like him, from where I sit, you’re starting to look more and more the same. Rich white men who say reckless, divisive things that aren’t always founded on truth, but borne out of your own skewed view of the world.”
Many people took to Twitter using the hashtag #FireBillMaher and to express their outrage.
Bill Maher must go. His radical, trolling, triggering, offensive, racial garbage has gone on far too long #FireBillMaher
— Laird Cormell (@LairdCormell) June 3, 2017
Let’s go after his sponsors like they did to O’Reilly. #firebillmaher.
— Robyn McGee (@RobynMMcGee) June 5, 2017
HBO issued a statement of its own and said that future airings of the episode would edit out the word. The network called Maher’s comment “completely inexcusable and tasteless.”
People also slammed Sen. Sasse for his reaction, or lack thereof. He took to Twitter on Saturday to say he should have responded differently in the moment.
Am walking off a redeye from LAX.
3 reflections on @billmaher
1. I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
2. But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
Friday’s comment was hardly Maher’s first time making hate-filled comments on air. He has made disparaging remarks about Muslims, women and others.
In 2014 he described Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f****** kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.”
In 2001 he also drew ire just after the 9/11 attacks for criticizing the United States military.
“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly,” he said.
Also in 2001 he made comments about people with mental disabilities. He compared his dogs to “retarded children.”
“They’re sweet. They’re loving. They’re kind. But they don’t mentally advance at all,” Maher said.
Despite the seemingly common use of the word in popular culture and media, the roots and implications of the N-word appear to be much less widely known. The African American Registry describes the roots of the N-word as the worst word that could be used when describing someone:
“The word, n*****, carries with it much of the hatred and disgust directed toward Black Africans and African Americans. Historically, n***** defined, limited, made fun of, and ridiculed all Blacks. It was a term of exclusion, a verbal reason for discrimination. Whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective, it strengthened the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless nobody. No other American surname carries as much purposeful cruelty.”
And while civil rights have come a long way since the word’s origins, its implications remain the same:
“The civil rights movement, Supreme Court decisions, the Black empowerment movement, broad civil rights legislation, and a general embracing of democracy by many American citizens have worn down America’s racial pecking order from slavery moving into Jim Crow period and today’s institutional racism. Yet, the word n***** has not left and its relationship with anti-Black prejudice remains symbiotic, interrelated, and interconnected. Ironically, it is co-dependent because a racist society created n***** and continues to feed and sustain it. But, the word no longer needs racism, or brutal and obvious forms, to survive. The word n***** today has its own existence.”
Last month an article in The Undefeated, “If you truly knew what the N-word meant to our ancestors, you’d NEVER use it,” also described the N-word’s roots in perpetuating racial hierarchies that were meant to make Blacks inferior.
“White folk indoctrinated [Blacks] into accepting their supposed inferiority. These narratives illustrate the success of this campaign of mental terrorism, and no word conveyed the depth of this internalized oppression more than ‘n*****.’”
But Maher made his stance on issues he believe pertain to “political correctness” in a 2012 op-ed for the New York Times called “Please Stop Apologizing.”
“I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone,” he wrote. “That’s why we have Canada. That’s not us. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.”