There’s a lot of speculation among Daily Show fans about who should be the next host now that Jon Stewart has announced his departure. A lot of the positive chatter has centered on 25 year-old show correspondent Jessica Williams to fill the chair. While she is indeed funny and very good at what she does, she herself refused the nomination and took herself out of the running for the host spot with a Twitter post stating that, in her words, she feels she is “extremely under-qualified” for the job. In the wake of her decision, writer Ester Bloom responded in an article by saying that she was not going to accept Jessica’s explanation and placed the blame for it on “imposter syndrome”, the tendency some intelligent women have to downplay their intelligence and qualifications so as not to threaten male superiority. While I believe the writer’s heart was in the right place, to me it was indicative of a disturbing trend among white feminists to take it upon themselves to speak for women of color, as if Black women don’t have the mental capacity to speak for themselves and make their own decisions.
I’m a man and I will not presume to speak for any woman although I have been in situations that for me feel similar. I’ve been in professional meetings and had a suggestion I made be ignored only to have a white person in the same room make the same suggestion and have it taken up. I once had a white grad student say during an online debate that he was qualified to talk about how it feels to be a Black man because he took an African-American Studies class. I think for a lot of white people, even the most well-meaning, Black people are only seen as objects or victims to be rescued so they can feel good about themselves and satisfy their hero complex. We are still not seen as full human beings capable of critical thinking, but psychological children who are spoken about or spoken for, but never spoken to. It’s a condescending attitude that does nothing to address any individual issue.
63 years after Ralph Ellison’s landmark book and people of color are largely still invisible. In the movie Being There, Peter Sellers plays a possibly autistic gardner who stumbles into the world of the political elite but only speaks in snippets of dialog he picked up from watching tv. His wealthy new associates take his ramblings to be profound statements and create global policy from them. All too often the lives and the struggles of African-Americans get co-opted by sympathetic people and turned into the social media equivalent of a Che Guevara t-shirt. It shows that many progressive “allies” believe Women of Color have no active agency or intelligence beyond being rescued by White saviors.
Jessica Williams is a very talented woman who doesn’t need me or anyone else to speak for her. I think Ester Bloom’s article had valid points about patriarchy. I just wish she would have given Jessica enough credit for being intelligent enough to self criticize without patriarchy being the reason.