America’s great reparations debate made its way to The Daily Show on Thursday night. But it wasn’t on the air.
In his latest “Between the Scenes” segment, host Trevor Noah fielded a question from a member of his audience who wanted to know if he thought reparations should “just go to one group” or perhaps to members of the “same socioeconomic group.” In case the question wasn’t clear enough, he added, “There are white people that have been disenfranchised recently.”
“‘Recently’ is the key,” Noah replied. “I think you have to understand what the word ‘reparations’ means first.” As the host put it, reparations are about “repairing” something “that you have broken” or “paying for something that you were supposed to pay for.”
“I’m not saying that there aren’t people living in America today who are suffering and who are going through pain and strife because of what’s happening when it comes to, you know, machines taking jobs, factories becoming industrialized, etcetera,” he continued. “But reparations is a specific conversation about a specific time in America, and that is black people were slaves, you know what I mean?”
In response to those who would argue that Irish indentured servants also deserve reparations, Noah said that if you were a slave, “you could not work toward your freedom” and “you lived and died as a slave.”
“And so that’s what reparations is about,” he told the audience member. “And so I hear what you’re saying, but I think that’s a completely separate conversation.” If you’re “not careful,” he said you could “combine everybody’s suffering in the same bowl and make it seem like all injustices have the same weighting. And they don’t.”
Noah went on to express sympathy for any white person who is “suffering” and can’t see their own “white privilege” because they are poor. “It is hard to accept that you have benefits because of the color of your skin if you cannot see the benefits that you have,” he said, going on to use the analogy of a golf handicap to explain why black people deserve a leg-up in America.
When you look at everything from slavery to Jim Crow laws to continued institutional racism, Noah said, “I think it’s safe to say that black Americans have a conversation that they need to be having with the United States.”
“It doesn’t involve me, it doesn’t involve white people,” he concluded. “It’s like, ‘Yo, American government, meet the black people.’ That’s it. Have that conversation.”