Every time something like this happens — when it’s revealed that a public figure, usually a white man, has done something in the past which lacks common decency, a routine series of events take place. Usually, shock comes first. People are taken aback and look for excuses that could clear his name. The defensiveness leads to step two, where downplaying and minimization starts, followed by the final step — acceptance and normalization.
Most of Gillis’ public backlash resulted from calling Yang a racial slur, making fun of Chinese accents and then calling his actions “nice racism.” He also agreed with his fellow podcast member that the large Asian population in New York’s Chinatown is confusing, repeating the racial slur and commenting that Chinese food is so displeasing he “[doesn’t] even want to think about it.”
Addressing the anger arising from his words, Gillis wrote a pathetic excuse for an apology in response.
“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss,” Gillis wrote. “I am happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said.”
Besides dumbing down the concept of racism to just a process he calls “pushing boundaries,” and calling nationwide retaliation a result of him “missing” a comedic shot, there are a few more words to analyze here: “happy,” “actually” and “anything.”
First, Gillis claims he’s “happy” to apologize, trying to insinuate that all of this is not a big deal, but if someone wants to make it a big deal, he’ll take the high road and graciously give them that gift.
Second, proposing he “actually” offended someone is implying he did not offend anyone, but the dramatic and sensitive people who thought he did are just wrong.
Third, “anything” can apply any number of random, vague words that he could have said at any point of time. Check yourself, Gillis, you used racial slurs multiple times on tape in 2018, and it’s definitely everywhere — even my mom knew about it — so stop trying to skirt culpability, because we got you.
This was blatant racism, and I’m sick of people in this country getting used to it. I assume Gillis is a great man in other respects, and I don’t want to demonize him, but the fact he was able to say the things he did and brush them off as a joke from a long time ago is not okay.
Systematic, implicit and passive racism exists everywhere in this country, and we have to stop enabling it.
In former “SNL” cast member David Spade’s Comedy Central talk show Monday, Spade, Jim Jeffries and Bill Burr discussed Gillis’ recent termination. Jeffries argued this event is an example of “cancel culture.”
“[Gillis’s remarks] are just a couple things back in his history,” Jeffries said. “Are we going to get rid of every sketch that ‘SNL’ has done that involves rice?”
Burr added that you could go back in anyone’s history and find something they did that came off offensive.
“You could do that to anybody,” Burr said.
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All three men ended up agreeing that the past should be the past, Gillis was wronged by not being credited for the good things he accomplished, and “SNL” was being hypocritical in the firing when the show has seen discriminative writing before.
It is true — you could go back in almost anyone’s history and find they did something bad, but that’s the point. Everyone says offensive and ignorant things, which is the exact reason we need to stop it.
If Gillis got hired despite his unkind words, then wouldn’t we be perpetuating something harmful? Jeffries said it himself — we’ve already given so much leeway to these men that it’s become part of culture. And even if “SNL” has been racist in the past, why would hiring another racist writer help anything? That makes no sense.
We cannot keep doing this to ourselves. Though firing Gillis was a sad and perhaps audacious decision, it was a necessary step in the direction of ending normalized racism in pop culture.
Katie Hardie ([email protected]) is a freshman studying nursing.