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D. L. Hughley: 'Everybody Knows' Independence Day Didn't Free Us All

Jul 4, 2020
Originally published on July 4, 2020 12:30 pm

July 4th is U.S. Independence Day. But D.L. Hughley, the comedian and author, suggests in his new book that all U.S. holidays "be put on a probationary period to ascertain their relevance and value to All Americans, acknowledging that days off are nice and that mattress sales must occur ..."

His book, co-written with Doug Moe of the Upright Citizens Brigade, is Surrender, White People! Our Unconditional Terms for Peace.

"I used to always tell this joke about, well, today, as we celebrate our Independence Day, well, not all of us," Hughley says. "Some of us weren't free for a little while after that. But you know, anything for time-and-a-half and a slab of baby backs. But it's just one of those inconveniences that we tolerate because ... people don't want to upset a story. And it's one of those things ... everybody knows it's not true. Everybody knows Christopher Columbus didn't discover America. Everybody knows Thanksgiving is a little bit more sinister than we celebrate it as. But it's kind of our story in America. When you're Black in America, the best thing you can develop is a sense of amnesia ... we shouldn't have Google and we shouldn't be able to access the truth, because that's the only way that you can kind of make sense out of all these things."


Interview highlights

On the 13th Amendment, which freed enslaved people

... when you've got to go back to the dude on the penny as the last time you did anything significant for Black people, you've got to update your resume. - D.L. Hughley

We got freedom, but not even the ability to eat in the same restaurants, for a hundred years. Not the ability to vote, not the ability to live where you wanted to. Not the ability to go to schools. It was a formality. I understand the 13th Amendment, and it is noteworthy. And had we acted in earnest on it, we would be having a different conversation. But we didn't. America didn't do that. And now I think we're dealing with all the kinds of ramifications ... it is interesting, and we talk about this in the book. You know, we're the party of Lincoln. And when you've got to go back to the dude on the penny as the last time you did anything significant for Black people, you've got to update your resume.

On the postwar promise of 40 acres and a mule, which never happened

Well, it started to and then it unfortunately, it did not. And there were a lot of people, a lot of slave owners were paid reparations. They were paid reparations. People have gotten reparations. Italians got reparations. Japanese got reparations. It's just that the descendants of slaves never had.

On the lack of supremacy in white supremacy

You know, our nation is rife with brilliant, biased men, with incredibly racist men. But they were bright, and moved, advanced this country forward. Like, you know, Abraham Lincoln wasn't a lover of Black people. Matter of fact, most of the people that America thinks of as great [were] probably, if provably, biased. But that didn't detract from their brilliance. Now we have people who just think white is enough. Like Donald Trump, by any standard, is not even a very bright dude. Like, he's the blue collar of presidents, by any standard. So it would be different if ... you're a white supremacist and you were actually an exemplary dude, like a bright dude, like a brilliant dude. But you're not.

On the idea of a "statute of statue limitations"

We we tend to erect statues — right now, you know, when we're talking about the incidents, like if we were looking at the last events of the last six weeks, the nation was rightfully appalled by what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, and they wanted justice done. I mean, that's across the board, regardless of color and sex and race. But a lot of those same people want justice to be done to the officer that murdered George Floyd. But they will fight for statues to men who did far worse. Like you can't want Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, prosecuted to the fullest extent the law, but still want a picture of Andrew Jackson, who murdered 4000.

... you can't want Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, prosecuted to the fullest extent the law, but still want a picture of Andrew Jackson, who murdered 4000. - D.L. Hughley

It was who we were at that time. It is not who we are right now ... people are embarrassed and rightfully so at the place America was, and it doesn't fit with who we are. It's like if you bought a brand new house in a brand new neighborhood, some of that furniture just doesn't match with what's going on right now. And you leave it behind. You could have loved it. It could have been great. But it doesn't go with where you're going now.

On other ethnic groups in America who've fled tyranny or genocide themselves and may not feel responsible for what happens to Black people in this country

You know, it's almost like what happened to me with COVID. I was asymptomatic, right? I wasn't expressing, I wasn't actively doing anything. But that didn't mean that I wasn't a danger to other people ... I think it can be like that with race and bias and white supremacy, too. You don't have to actively be a part of it or be actively displaying signs of it. But that doesn't mean that in your wake, damage and pain and terrible things aren't happening ... you could be asymptomatic in biases and supremacy and racism, too. If, for instance, things are happening around you that you know aren't right, that you know are detrimental. But you say nothing and do nothing. They continue to happen because you giving consent. That means you're displaying symptoms — doesn't mean that you're actively doing it on purpose. But still, those things happen, and there is clearly a benefit to to one situation and a deficit to another.

This story was produced for radio by Isabella Gomez and edited by Martha Ann Overland. It was adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Today, of course, is July Fourth, U.S. Independence Day. But D. L. Hughley, the comedian and author, suggests in his new book that all U.S. holidays, quote, "be put on a probationary period to ascertain their relevance and value to all Americans, acknowledging that days off are nice and that mattress sales must occur." His book, co-written with Doug Moe of the Upright Citizens Brigade, is "Surrender, White People! Our Unconditional Terms For Peace." D. L. Hughley joins us now from the West Coast. Thank you so much for being with us.

D L HUGHLEY: Well, good morning to you, man. Thank you very much, Scott. Appreciate it.

SIMON: And I have to ask, if you don't mind, you have - you've been in quarantine.

HUGHLEY: I have. I'm off now, just in time.

SIMON: You're off. Congratulations. How are you feeling?

HUGHLEY: Thank you. I feel great. You know, I was one of those people who was asymptomatic, but unfortunately, everybody at my broadcasting facility - they all contracted it, too. And everybody's doing better, but it was - I was a regular Typhoid Mary and didn't even know it, so...

SIMON: Well, thanks for making time for us. Glad you're feeling better, and our best wishes to all of your teammates, too. How do you feel about July Fourth? The U.S. declared its freedom from Britain, but that, of course, did not include freedom for enslaved people.

HUGHLEY: Right. I think it's one of those things that we just kind of know isn't true, like a lot of our holidays. Everybody knows Christopher Columbus didn't discover America. Everybody knows Thanksgiving is a little bit more sinister than we celebrate it as. But it's kind of our story in America. The best thing about - when you're Black in America, the best thing you can develop is a sense of amnesia. We shouldn't have Google and we shouldn't be able to access the truth 'cause that's the only way that you can kind of make sense out of all these things.

SIMON: Let me ask you in a more serious vein, because your - you know, your book is - you are very funny, and it's both serious and funny. But after the 13th Amendment passed in 1865 following a bloody Civil War that, in Lincoln's phrase, every drop of blood drawn with the lash will be paid by another drawn with the sword, does that, to your mind, in some ways redeem July Fourth?

HUGHLEY: We got freedom, but not even the ability to eat in the same restaurants for a hundred years, not the ability to vote, not the ability to live where we wanted to, not the ability to go to school. It was a formality. I understand the 13th Amendment, and it is noteworthy. And had we acted in earnest on it, we would be having a different conversation. But we didn't, and now I think we're dealing with all the kind of ramifications. 'Cause everybody always goes - like, it's interesting, and we talk about this in the book - you know, we're the party of Lincoln. And when you got to go back to the dude on the penny as the last time you did anything significant for Black people, then you got to update your resume.

SIMON: One of the things you note - there was a kind of reparations plan after the Civil War - General Sherman's Special Field Order 15, 40 acres and a mule that were to be rented and sold to former slaves. But that never happened, did it?

HUGHLEY: Well, it started to, and then it didn't - unfortunately, it did not. And there were a lot of people - a lot of slave owners were paid reparations. They were - you know, they were paid reparations. People have gotten reparations. Italians got reparations. Japanese got reparations. It's just that the descendants of slaves never have.

SIMON: You say at one point in the book, one of the many problems with white supremacy is that there's not enough supremacy. Go with that, if you could, for a moment.

HUGHLEY: You know, our nation is rife with incredibly racist men, but they were bright and moved - advanced this country forward. Now we have people who just think white is enough, like Donald Trump by any standard is not even a very bright dude. Like, he's, like, the blue collar of presidents. So it would be different if you're a white supremacist and you were actually an exemplary dude, like, a brilliant dude, but you're not.

SIMON: Let me ask you on this Independence Day about another provision in the book that you propose - statute of statue limitations.

HUGHLEY: Right now, like, you know, when we're talking about the incidents in the last six weeks, the nation was rightfully appalled by what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, and they wanted justice done in regards of color and sex and race and - but a lot of those same people want justice to be done to the officer that murdered George Floyd, but they will fight for statues to men who did far worse. Like, you can't want Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, prosecuted but still want a picture of Andrew Jackson, who murdered 4,000. So I think that at a certain point, statues, like anything else, should have an expiration date. Like, once they've served, we should put something else up.

SIMON: Yeah. You say if they were made of plaster of Paris instead of marble, maybe they'd just melt on their own.

HUGHLEY: Right, right.

SIMON: Let me ask you one last question, if I can. But I do wonder about this. You know, this is America, and we've got millions of families who came here from all over the world after slavery ended, after Jim Crow. And they came from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa. And a lot of those families feel that they fled tyranny and oppression and Holocaust. And they may agree that African Americans and others in America have been oppressed and worse, but they don't feel responsible for it. What do you say?

HUGHLEY: You know, it's almost like what happened to me with COVID. I was asymptomatic, right? I wasn't expressing anything. I wasn't actively doing anything, right? But that didn't mean that I wasn't a danger to other people. I think it can be like that with race and bias and white supremacy, too. You don't have to actively be a part of it or to be actively displaying signs of it, but that doesn't mean that in your wake, damage and pain and terrible things aren't happening. So you don't have to be - you can be asymptomatic in biases and supremacy and racism, too. Like, if you - if, for instance, things are happening around you that you know aren't right, that you know are detrimental but you say nothing and do nothing, they continue to happen because you've given consent.

SIMON: D. L. Hughley - his new book, co-written with Doug Moe, "Surrender, White People!" - thank you so much for being with us.

HUGHLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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