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

<em>Surrender, White People!</em> by D.L. Hughley and Doug Moe
William Morrow
Surrender, White People! by D.L. Hughley and Doug Moe

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.

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.

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 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.