DO NOT PUBLISH Why Trevor Noah's Anti-Semitic and Sexist Tweets Aren't Fireable Offenses
It has now come to light that Trevor Noah thumbed out some objectionable tweets about Jewish people and women years ago. And people are so upset that they are calling for his job. I'd like to argue that this should not be a fireable offense.
I saw the tweets in question, which you can read at BuzzFeed, and I understand why people are arguing that they show he has questionable views about women and Jewish people. Maybe. Maybe not. Comedians say a lot of things, many of them stupid. But the calls for Comedy Central to rescind its offer to Noah to host The Daily Show because of those tweets smells of self-important arrogance and knee-jerk emotions that suggest that people are never allowed to make mistakes and grow from them.
At least one of the tweets that people are objecting to, is, in my opinion, not that offensive. It reads, “South Africa knows how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.” That strikes a lot of people as true, and not anti-Semitic, though it does criticizes both Israel, and South Africa. Who hasn’t accused Israel of being a war-mongering bully against Palestine, by the way? For a variety of reasons, I find it hard to believe that Trevor Noah is an anti-Semite, including the fact that he has said his mother is half Jewish. I just don’t see it. But don't get me started about South Africa and recycling. (Gee, no one got upset about that part of it.)
Now, the one dated Jan. 25, 2012, where Noah tweets, “Messi gets the ball and the real players try to foul him, but Messi doesn’t go down easy, just like Jewish chicks” is stereotypical and offensive but I have heard male and female comedians of all races discuss the sexual differences between various races of men and women, so I also don’t see the hate for Jewish people or the sexism in this one either. And I'm pretty sensitive to both. It's a joke and a stereotype, but a fireable offense?
And when he tweets, “ Behind every successful rap billionaire is a double rich as Jewish man. #BeatsByDreidel,” he hardly is introducing anything that has not been said by others; Russell Simmons wrote a piece in for the Huffington Post discussing how top black Hip Hop artists learned the business end of music from Jewish businessmen. Noah is not making these jokes up out of thin air. And they may not be funny
Even the ones when Noah talks about “fat” women and “A hot white woman with an ass …” are a little mean-spirited because many comedians talk about, well, having sex with overweight people. The truth is, comedians have made jokes about fat people since time immemorial, and they can be both nasty and in bad taste. The fact that they still pop up in a society that is obsessed with weight is not the surprising, and gradually people are just going to stop laughing at them. But I am still not too sure that can be framed as him hating overweight women or white women with big butts.
(Watch Chris Rock joke about the “fat girls” here. Or comedienne Cocoa Brown’s stand up about overweight women and “skinny girls.” If either stand up had tweeted their jokes and were in Noah’s position, I bet they’d get as much ridicule. And for what?)
My point is that tweets that read as offensive in print are sometimes hilarious when said on stage — especially with the proper context, which matters greatly when humor is involved. Context and tone matters. It also matters who tells the joke.
Because it is 2015, it is very easy and convenient for critics to go to anyone’s Twitter feed and find tweets that can easily be labeled as offensive. If you are under the age of 35, your life—or at least parts of it—will likely be chronicled on social media. The good, bad and offensive. That means that a lot of people's youthful indiscretions are widely available for anyone who has the time to dig them up. Are we going to fire everyone who ever said anything objectionable?
Even if we would conclude that the tweets are offensive, firing someone for those tweets without giving him or her the opportunity to explain his or herself wouldn’t be effective. For one, how many of you have tweeted something that you regret? If we use the “he or she tweeted something offensive therefor he or she needs to be fired” logic, none of us would be working because our bosses would fire us or, if we are private business owners, our advertisers would discontinue partnerships.
A series of questionable or insensitive tweets about women and Jewish people doesn’t make someone a misogynist or an anti-semitic. It may make him or her ignorant and in need of being informed, but it’s hardly cause to say that that person should be fired.
The problem with Twitter is that it gives a person the anonymity to wax philosophical about how perfect a human he or she is without having to admit to the mistakes they’ve made on social media or offline to reach the level of social consciousness he or she has achieved to advocate for the causes they believe in. I wonder if we would find controversial tweets from folks calling for Noah’s job, if we investigated their Twitter feeds? Unless they are God’s infallible gifts to humanity—which I think many people on Twitter believe themselves to be— I’m pretty sure there is a good chance we would. Would they lead a campaign to get themselves fired. I doubt it.
As a reporter who prides himself on being sensitive to women’s issues and racial justice, I have tweeted some ignorant and insensitive things in the past. Fortunately, people pulled me to the side and told me about it and my behavior and attitude changed. This, to me, is better than this “one and done” mentality that fires everyone from their jobs because of a few tweets that may be off-color or ill-conceived. I believe that many people who tweet ignorance aren’t really aware of it, to be honest.
Say what you will about Noah, but he is no Artie Lange, the white comedian who trolled ESPN’s Cari Champion’s mentions with racist, pathological tweets of slave sex. Moreover, I think the uproar over Noah’s tweets have less to do with what he tweeted and more to do with the fact that people simply aren’t into his humor —or him. If this is the case, just say that. His humor is not your cup of tea. You have the right to that opinion.
But don’t use his tweets as a veiled excuse to argue that the man doesn’t deserve to be the next host of The Daily Show. Let the viewing audience decide that, not some tweets that are nearly five years old and can be easily taken out of context.