John Oliver explored the disconnect between the Republican National Convention’s messaging on race in America and the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Last Week Tonight Sunday, August 30th.
Among false and misleading claims about the state of the Covid-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump’s accomplishments in office, Oliver said “the biggest gulf between the RNC and objective reality concerned race.” Throughout the week, Oliver continued, speakers tried to ensure viewers that racism was a thing of the past, but seemed less concerned with winning over black voters than reassuring white ones. For instance, Oliver highlighted Vice President Mike Pence saying “We don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with our African-American neighbors,” suggesting a distinction between that “we” and “our African-American neighbors.”
“But I guess that sentiment shouldn’t really be surprising coming from Mike Pence,” Oliver cracked, “A man who permanently looks like he should be living in ‘Ken’s White Flight Dream House.’”
The RNC featured some slightly more incendiary rhetoric, however, which Oliver tied to the events in Kenosha, where protests erupted after the police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back in front of his children. Oliver specifically examined the way police treated Blake and the way they let 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse walk past police cars, gun in hand, after he’d shot three people.
“If you’re looking for a better visual illustration of the differences between being black and white in America, I don’t think you’re gonna find one,” Oliver said. “Except, maybe, seeing exactly who sits down and who stands up when ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ comes on at a wedding.”
Oliver also touched on the NBA and WNBA strikes that followed Blake’s killing, and a speech delivered by Jacob Blake’s sister, Letetra Widman, that emphasized anger and the need for legitimate change over seeking sympathy. Oliver argued that American history has shown the system doesn’t respond to injustice until it’s forced to and that symbolic protests are too easily co-opted. Even voting Trump out in November will only help to a certain extent.
“Because as much as I, or the RNC, would like to believe that Joe Biden will be an agent of radical change, there’s just no reason to believe that,” Oliver said. “To the extent that real change is possible through the ballot box this year, it will only be if Biden is elected alongside progressive candidates all the way down the ballot, from the Senate to state legislatures to city councils to sheriffs. And even that will be very much a beginning, and not an end — none of this is easy, but it has to begin and now.”