Ethics Quiz: Trevor Noah’s Joke

“Africa won the World Cup. I get it, they have to say it’s the French team. But look at those guys. You don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France, my friends.”

—-Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”

Noah, who is black, was immediately accused of racism. “So basically, Trevor, all the African-Americans in the US are just Africans, right?,” said one critic. “Know that as a French of Algerian, German and Spanish descent, I find it insulting. We are all French, we are one people. Ask the players,they’ll tell you they’re proud Frenchmen!”

Your more complicated-than-it-looks Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Does Noah have anything to apologize for?

I mean, other than that fact that his joke isn’t particularly funny.

In truth, he shouldn’t have to apologize for that. Putting together a daily comedy show is difficult, hit-and miss, and guaranteed to result in frequent duds. An edgy, satirical show is guaranteed to have duds that tick people off. The bad jokes are an unavoidable part of the process of finding the good ones.

However, racist is a problem even if the joke was hilarious (as Noah’s typical “anything this progressive black man says is funny” audience laughed acted as if it was).

Considerations:

1 One reason I don’t watch “The Daily Show” (and didn’t often even when Jon Stewart was the host, and he was a more talented comic) is that it’s a fraud. A political satire show’s orientation should be non-partisan and distribute its barbs across the political spectrum, or it is really just a partisan ally and a propaganda device. Thus it is hard to not find it satisfying when a Democratic Party, progressive shill like Noah offends the Left inadvertently. Of course, if he offended the Right, he would never apologize. He would gloat.

2. “He’s a comedian!” would be a defense, except that he is only half a comedian. He makes serious commentary as well, as did Stewart. The “now I’m a clown, and can say anything”/ “now I’m a pundit, and want to be taken seriously” act is cynical and slippery, and I don’t accept it. Noah, like Samantha Bee , like Stephen Colbert, like  Alec Baldwin and many others, is a political pundit who uses jokes and the mask of clown to duck accountability.

3. How much of Noah’s comment was a joke? Maybe French blacks consider themselves French and nothing else, but the rhetoric from Black Lives Matters, black student groups and black leadership in the Democratic Party in this country leave the loyalties of American blacks open to debate. How does his joke’s assessment of black loyalties line up with accusations that NFL players protesting during the National Anthem are impugning the nation itself?

4. As other have noted, what if Noah’s comment had been about NBA championship rather than the World Cup? Would that comment be considered a joke?

5. Does Noah’s race change anything?

6. Stipulated: if a Republican Party chairman, or a Republican elected official, or a Fortune 500 CEO, or a Fox News anchor, or you-know-who, said what Noah did, and made it clear at the time that it was a joke, he or she would have to resign or be fired, and would be branded a racist for life.

29 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Quizzes, Quotes, Race, Sports

29 responses to “Ethics Quiz: Trevor Noah’s Joke

  1. Cynical John

    The term “racist” has been thrown around so much in the last several years so as to make it meaningless.

    • brian

      I agree, however this joke is actually, technically, truly racist.Noah attempts to lower the status to an entire group of people solely because of the color of their skin. The fact that he is black gives me pause, either he doesn’t really know what racism means or there is serious confusion about US national identity in the black zeitgeist. Most normal citizens of a county, let alone citizens fresh of a monumental achievement like winning the world cup for their country, will take serious offense to someone questioning their attachment and belonging to their county, Noah’s joke may indicates this sense of attachment is missing.

      • brian

        I painted with too broad of a brush, there is likely a strain of anti-american sentiment in the black community, but that certainly doesn’t represent all of the black community.

      • Dumb joke, though I thought he was making fun of the French and not the players. We all know that France is an open, welcoming country, right? Yet, the French have a terrible reputation of racism – real Camus’
        The Stranger”. I took him as saying that the French don’t consider the African players as French.

        jvb

  2. Other Bill

    His “joke” reminded me of the “Coolest monkey in the jungle” kerfuffle. Is it a joke or is it punditry? Is it live or is it Memorex? I guess it depends on what the meaning of is is.

    Of course he gets a pass, he’s black and woke. He’s a loyalist. Lefties can’t shoot their own.

    • Other Bill

      And people who don’t agree with Noah are clearly wrong. Afircan-ness is an identity and sacrosanct. Frenchness is a white construct and therefore invalid. You can belong to a racial group but you can’t belong to a nation state. Continents good, nations bad. But if you’re white or European, you have to stay on your continent, but you lso have to let anyone else in who wants to come there. Clear?

      • “But if you’re white or European, you have to stay on your continent, but you lso have to let anyone else in who wants to come there.”

        But, but, but, but, but, but, but, where are the ones that want to be let in coming from, and why do they want to leave where they are?

        “Clear?”

        Short answer: no.

        Long answer: F**K No!!!

        • Other Bill

          They are wonderful places. Full of diversity and interesting food and music. Unfortunately, those places tend to be run by ruthless sons of bitches and their henchmen and hangers on. But they’re not shitholes. No. They are wonderful places.

          • Other Bill

            And of course they are vastly superior. They were just screwed up by the colonial era. It’s all Europe’s fault. I forgot that part.

            • “It’s all Europe’s fault.”

              But, but, but, but, but, but, but Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the EU Collective, National Health Care, Multi-Culturism, Democratic Socialism, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

              And howse about that ability to successfully assimilate immigrants, literally by the boatload?

              It’s likely my shortcoming, but short answer/long answer notwithstanding; it’s till not clear.

              It’s times like these that Chris would set me, et al, straight.

              Chris…you out there?

  3. Glenn Logan

    I don’t know if you can meaningfully say racist things about your own race. Black people are allowed to use the N-word without fear of sanction, while a white person may not, for any reason. This has been codifed by the John Schnatter affair, and is apparently now holy writ.

    As you say, he’s a comedian trying to be funny, and in spite of the fact I didn’t find it particularly funny, that’s more a matter of taste than anything else. But what it does seem to do is amplify the “Africans are superior athletes” fallacy, by pointing out the racial composition of the French team.

    This joke is indistinguishable from saying that Africans won the Olympic basketball gold medal because most of the US team is of African descent. Would that be funny? No, because Americans take their Americanism seriously, and Noah would know that. He apparently doesn’t care about the French, and for comedy’s sake, I think that’s just fine.

    So ultimately, he insulted the French soccer players by imputing the idea that their African ancestry was more important than their French citizenship, that somehow heritage matters more than country, and that by extension every African descendant is really playing for the continent of his deepest roots.

    So his comment is offensive to the French players, but also may have been intended to flaunt racial stereotypes in a way similar to using the N-word as an African-American. I find the latter more offensive than the former, if my theory is right, but otherwise, I think it was just a lame joke.

  4. Chris Marschner_

    Bad joke. Move on.

    If anything it simply portrays his feelings that people with darker skins are inherently better athletes. Kinda like what Jimmy the Greek said a few years back.

    Perhaps he mispoke in which he meant…
    Oh what the hell I don’t know and I don’t care.

    I don’t take seriously people that do not understand Africa is a continent and France is a country

  5. adimagejim

    It is not racist. It is intentionally divisive based on race. It is also transparent. Just trying to spread the Alinskyite cause around.

    By his logic the cup belongs to every country of origin of every player regardless of race. What an idiot.

  6. A.M. Golden

    It’s difficult to view him as a comedian when he is not clear when he’s joking and when he’s not, especially when he can assign the appellation joke to the statement after the fact when he realizes he’s offended someone.

    It’s pure identity politics he played. People with black skin are Africans, first, in Noah’s world, and citizens of their country next, regardless of the team on which they play. He should have known better.

  7. It’s a stupid and very unfunny joke and too many like that will dictate his rating success more than any agenda he supports. He can make any joke he likes, that’s his job. But he’s also responsible to bring more eyeballs for the ads and that is just as hard as the bill of rights to do.

    What I like the French critic saying “I find it insulting. We are all French, we are one people. Ask the players, they’ll tell you they’re proud Frenchmen!” As that is the proper response to any people pushing divisionary rhetoric and behavior. The DS went too far against a more united and proud group. Can we borrow them to teach this?

  8. Isaac

    That joke is perfectly benign.

  9. Rip

    Ok here it is in the days of vaudeville, everyone was a target and while some were upset about it some had a thicker skin, I would have needed and have rhino hide, as gay, Republican,Catholic, of Irish, polish ,german heritage, and of course, their are whole books of jokes about my. Distant cousin Hellen Keller, I found those in bad taste as a kid, still do. Of course the fact that I am on the autism spectrum is also reason. On one hand it is good we are more sensitive to these issues, on the other hand a laugh is good to ease tensions, and any performer knows not every joke works, I mean. As a gay man I always thought someone needed to sit Barbie down, as look there was figure skating Ken, earring magic Ken, Ballet Dancer Ken , and. Art director Ken, any minute he was running off with Don’t ask don’t tell gi Joe! Point is I yearn for comedy to go back to style, Bob hope could joke about a President and play golf with him the next day! Comedians need to play with sensitive issues but it is a fine line. Yes Kathy Griffin crossed it, some comedians are skilled at walking it like a tight rope, some use it like they are playing hopscotch, and some are failing with out a net.
    First everyone was a target, then you needed to be part of the group to make the joke, this was where Trevor went wrong, he was playing on the African card, but the players considered themselves rightfully French. Hope some of our NFL player are watching. Cause there is a lesson for someone in a national league!

  10. I remember a comic making a joke… Must have been 15 years ago, it went something like… “You think Black people are taking over sports? Find me an all-black hockey team? You think White people are taking over sports? Find me an all-white basketball team” I’m sure it was funnier when he said it. Whatever. “All black people are from Africa hurr-de-derr” is the kind of low key racism Noah would normally rail against, but I couldn’t care less about.

    Consistency is important, principles are important, legitimacy is important. If Trevor Noah would have called out a Republican, say, for saying something like that, which he almost certainly would have, I don’t know by what standard he could not apologise and remain legitimate outside a very insulated bubble of self-important busybodies mewling haughtily about the rosee of their own flatulence. This attitude of there being no bad tactics, just bad targets doesn’t even have a withered fig leaf to hide behind anymore, and it’s slowly degrading our ability to both give and take legitimate criticism. I don’t care what happens to Noah right now, but I’d really like for this to be a learning experience for him, maybe his brush with possible doom at the hands of his socially just crusader friends might open his eyes to the danger of them, and curb his smugness just a little in the future.

    • Rip

      Consistently is the goal, but in comedy it is rarely achieved, I have studied and taught comedy all my life, And even my best shows have had bad nights, unfortunately as you. Never know when something will throw it off! Fortunately my show bad night are few and far between,as Jack can attest.

  11. Kyjo

    The other hitch here is that Noah himself is from (South) Africa. The joke might say something more about his own sense of identity than anything else. Is it “racist”? Well, it’s “racist” to the extent that any race-based joke is “racist.” But you know that progressives define “racism” as “racial prejudice + entrenched sociopolitical power,” and since Noah is a member of at least 2 historically marginalized minorities (black or mixed-raced AND immigrant), the power part is missing. Indeed, from the progressive perspective, it’s possible to argue that Noah’s joke virtuously subverts engrained Eurocentric notions of racial superiority, and is therefore anti-racist. For myself, though, I find it difficult to regard the joke as “racist” since there’s no animus or damaging stereotype involved.

  12. Sharon

    I am very offended with Noah’s racist remark that the only players who helped the French team to victory had dark skin. There are several players on the French team who do not have dark skin. Do they not count? Noah needs to apologize immediately to these players for his racist remark which suggests that France’s victory was achieved only by the players with dark skin. Also, there are some players with skin tone I am not sure would be considered really dark…not as dark as some of the players with the darkest skin…but darker than the player with the lightest skin…so Noah needs to apologize to those players as well. Noah also needs to apologize to all the very tan people in France. A person can get a very good tan on the southern beaches of France and I’m sure that tourism to these beaches will now be negatively affected by Noah’s insensitive remarks. Noah needs to apologize to the travel and tourism industry in France immediately.

    Obviously, this was pure snark but if a person wants to be offended, a person can find anything offensive. It seems that people really enjoy being offended these days. If you are offended, you get to talk very loudly and sometimes people listen to you…and when people listen to you…so many good things can come after that.

  13. I know there will be those that disagree with this but I really don’t give a damn what’s said on a show like The Daily Show, it’s more political propaganda spewed forth from a totalitarian political arm of progressives, and Trevor Noah is nothing more than a political stooge using an entertainment platform to pander to the extreme political left’s bias. They are literally feeding the beast that is ignorance and I have absolutely no respect whatsoever for any show, left leaning or right leaning, that do that.

    I’m think someone should organize a TV, newspaper, and magazine burning protest across the United States to protest how massively biased and politicized everything has become in the entertainment and “media”. Hit the bastards where it really hurts, turn the damn one-eyed monsters off and don’t buy any more newspapers or magazines.

    • I started with the gal in the mirror and limited my media intake. Oh, I might get excited about a half-season return of an older animated show, so I still only lag a day or two behind. It’s so much easier to resist the viral nature the media fosters.

      That is a much wiser ‘Resistance’ to me, resisting the hysterical mob.

  14. Not entirely on point, but I have been wondering about this skit on Saturday Night Live:

    https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/irish-dating-show/3686078

    If Trevor Noah’s joke was offensive, then why was this skit acceptable? It shows the Irish as drunkards, incestuous, and inbred. Only, then to be topped off with a priest leading post-pubescent boys off to “confession”.

    jvb

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