Kenan ThompsonYesterday it came out that Kenan Thompson, a regular player on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, felt the reason why there were no African-American female cast members on the show was because the black woman who have auditioned weren’t good enough. Mind you, Lorne Michaels, the showrunner for SNL, is the one who does the picking and auditions are by invite only and there are a plethora of funny black women working in and around the industry. Never mind that SNL has, historically, employed plenty of not-really-that-funny people who have crashed and burned spectacularly while also being white.

But it’s not Lorne Michaels fault, per Thompson and how could it be? Lorne Michaels is his boss and he picked Thompson so Thompson has to rationalize why there are no black women on the show in a way that absolves his boss and also solidifies the belief that he, a long-time cast member now, got this position based on merit and talent and is special. If only more black women had merit and talent and were special and they’d get to be on SNL too. Everything’s fair right? Except it is not.

I don’t know Kenan Thompson’s heart. For all we know he was talking haphazardly not wanting to step on his boss’ toes and, without thinking, threw black funny ladies under the bus. But it’s concerning because it reminds me all too much of how sometimes people who get to be the “lonely only” or the “token” in some workplace or academic situation fall into the false belief that they got there because they were “special” and other people who look like them are simply “lazy” and don’t “try hard enough.”

When I was a newspaper reporter, I was often the only black person on the news staff and sometimes the only black person working at the paper at all. This was because I worked for small town papers in cities most people from major metropolitan areas wouldn’t want to move to, let alone a black person. Bakersfield, Calif. and Midland, TX aren’t exactly known for their vibrant black communities. And it can be an alienating experience to move to a place and be the only black person there … unless you WANT to be the only black person there because it makes you feel special, like you were “chosen” and therefore elevated to a higher position than other “common” folk.

While most black people are offended by a white person saying “You’re different from other black people,” there’s always a minority of black people who actually enjoy hearing these words, who like feeling they are “different” from other black people because they have issues with black people, or even with being black themselves.  Perhaps they felt they didn’t fit in very well or that old chestnut of being labeled as a “nerd” or accused of “acting white,” a common experience for certain pockets of those brought up in the black middle class. But rather than seeing this for what it was – immaturity on the part of your peers and that they were the issue, not the entirety of the black race – they doubled down on it being black people’s fault for “rejecting”  them. And so they bought into the beliefs that all back people are intolerant or ignorant or close-minded or uneducated. And then, by pre-rejecting black people before they could reject them, they over-compensated with desperately seeking the approval of white people. I’ve seen it happen. And it’s always disappointing because it ignores the reality that often being a token doesn’t mean that you’re “better” than other black people. It just means they found one acceptable black person then stopped looking. That they don’t actually really care about finding qualified people, that it’s about superficial nods to diversity while reinforcing the status quo where a white person can be average for a position, but a black person must be exceptional. Where George W. Bush could simply be a guy you wanted to have a beer with, but Barack Obama needed to be the second coming. Where faceless white male comics could come and go on Saturday Night Live, but black people had to be the perfect fit.

It’s not anything to be proud of to be a token. It’s just yet another reminder of how real the glass ceiling is for women and people of color. Denying it doesn’t make it less powerful. Denying it doesn’t make the token more special.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/genesia.williams Genesia Williams

    I want to like this 6 times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/birgitta.johnson.54 Birgitta Johnson

    The title alone gave me life for 10 moons and 4 sunsets….

  • UgoBabeeeee

    This is starting to become overkill and I think you all need to stop…i dont know much about this actor so am not defending him because of any affection towards him…but of all the articles (unless i missed the article and if so- disregard this comment) i read i did not read him saying that black female comideinnes (sp) are not good enough…granted- him saying they were not ready leaves one to wonder what he means by that- but i dont see the jump to the conclusion you guys have been harping since yeterday- that it means that black female commideines are not good enough..you guys may not llike him or what he represents- and thats fine- but dont twist his words or try to make a conclusion for the masses off of what he did not articulate…

  • http://www.facebook.com/melanie.melanie.melanie.melanie Melanie Stitt

    He is horrible, clearly no one has explained to him how unfunny his goofy azz is.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kelley.johnson.75436 Kelley Johnson

    Hi, Kenan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcus.wyatt.35 Marcus Wyatt

    @melanie…he had to have heard that in his Nic days!…lol

  • http://galleryqui.wordpress.com mizqui

    Oh man. I knew there was a reason I wasn’t IN LOVE with SNL. I’ve tried. I even DVR it – but I never get around to watching it. It’s an exclusive club excluding my face. Well, at least there’s JESSICA WILLIAMS on The Daily Show w/John Stewart and so many other comedic black women on The Rickey Smiley Show and every Tyler Perry Production. Perhaps Lorne M. & Keenan T. haven’t seen these women or these shows. THANK GOD for Oprah’s OWN and TV One… #CastingPreference

  • MimiLuvs

    “…And so they bought into the beliefs that all back people are intolerant or ignorant or close-minded or uneducated. And then, by pre-rejecting black people before they could reject them, they over-compensated with desperately seeking the approval of white people…”

    I know a couple of people who has this mindset and I find it quite sad that they do not realize how 1) hypocritical they are… 2) they are just as close-minded as the rest of us.
    I don’t know if any other minority feels this way, but it seems as if we (and I mean Black Americans, in this case because I can’t speak for African descended people from other cultures) sometimes fall for the “one equeals all of us” mindset too.
    Rather than believe that a few people are jerk-offs, the mindset of…
    “I was picked on Black American girls, when I was a little girl, so all of Black American women are b*tches.”
    “Due to some bad but minor mistakes, I ended up dating a few Black Americans who were jerks, so that means that all Black Americans are jerks.”
    “My kid was bullied by a fellow Black American kid, I had him transferred into a pre-dominantly white school because those black children were violent.”

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    I agree with the article about Kenan, I do believe he might have this mindset. I mean afterall he is lucky he made it on SNL himself. I still say Kel is funnier and should be there instead of Kenan but what is interesting is Jay Paroh0(sp) even thought he was asking for a black woman comediane to join him on the show. He kind of said the same thing in his article. I looked back at it yesterday

    When asked why the cast isn’t diverse, Pharoah blamed it on people burning bridges or just choking up during auditions.

    “It’s one of those things that are hard,” he recognizes. “Some people choke up. Some people burn their bridges by saying things they shouldn’t say either. You just have to be very political about your delivery, what you say, and your performance. You’ve got to be on point. Everybody has to like you and want you to win. If they don’t like you, it’s a wrap.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/saundra.griffin.5 Saundra Griffin

    SNL should have hired Kel instead.

  • Mo

    He did indeed say the black female comedians that have been auditioning have not been ready. In isolation this may seem like a legitimate reasoning, but the fact of the matter is SNL has been coming on for 38 years. So when you take it as ‘in 38 years this show has only found 4 black females who were “ready” ‘, you can see why people are taking issue with this assertion, especially given the fact that other shows seem to have found women who were “ready”.

    This combined with the fact that SNL seems to have deemed many men ready (such as Thompson himself, imo) who have not seemed particularly talented, leaves many people calling BS on that explanation. It sounds disingenuous and it would probably be more correct to say SNL is not interested in finding, cultivating or retaining black (and quite frankly any other shade, white included) female talent. It’s that simple.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.collins.940 Karen Collins

    I never thought he was funny or a good actor. What he says means nothing . Kenan you need to do a clerance thomas, STFU

  • Anthony

    Danielle Belton, that was a great essay. You really explained the psychology behind people accepting token status better than anyone I have ever read.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    Off -topic– Danielle, I spoke to you during a phone interview for a job at the paper in Midland, TX! I didn’t get the job, but boy, is the world small. Just think, had I got it, there would have been a whole 2 black women on that paper.

    On topic– there are a lot of black people that think they are special little snowflakes and want to pull the ladder up to stop other black folks from getting ahead. Yeah Kenan, I am SO sure you are funnier than Wanda Sykes, Adele Givens and Issa Rae. Hell, all of us have aunties, moms and grannies that are funnier than Kenan.

  • Usagi

    There wouldn’t be this many black people with this mindset, if other AAs would stop this “black is this” bs and accept that there are different factors that cause diiferent points of veiws (income, culture, and looks). Both white and black people are to blame on this.

  • Muse

    LOL. I loved your show back in the day Kenan, but you know you’re wrong for this. Whatever though, I always liked Kel more anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ShaunQT Shaun Quin-Del Balso

    Seriously, this could be true! If we want ppl to stop focusing on our race, then WE should stop focusing on it.

  • apple

    too bad Kel didn’t make it instead…
    I dropped the screewww … in the TUNA! dear god that is still funny as the day i saw it at 12

  • ijs

    Gahhh! I still say that to this day!! I do i do I do-ooooooo!

  • http://gravatar.com/nattynay nattynay

    I’ve never really found SNL to be the gut-busting sketch-comedy masterpiece that many people make it out to be (I’d go to MadTV for big laughs, early 90s-2004 MadTV).

    Aside from the show not being funny, I was always turned off by the lack of “female diversity” and grew tired of seeing Keenan in drag in sketches where a black woman could’ve easily been casted.

    There’s too much talent and thanks to YouTube access to talent, to not be able to cast a black woman on SNL.

    My vote’s for: Franchesca Ramsey or Darmirra Brunson…Hell, cast them both!

  • The Comment

    ‘Never mind that SNL has, historically, employed plenty of not-really-that-funny people who have crashed and burned spectacularly while also being white.”

    I love good writing!

  • http://www.beautycoatedlife.com Candice

    SNL hasn’t been consistently good for a long time now so screw his opinion. I will continue to support black comedians women and men!

  • Antonio

    “Perhaps they felt they didn’t fit in very well or that old chestnut of being labeled as a “nerd” or accused of “acting white,” a common experience for certain pockets of those brought up in the black middle class. But rather than seeing this for what it was – immaturity on the part of your peers and that they were the issue, not the entirety of the black race – they doubled down on it being black people’s fault for “rejecting” them.”

    This might be true, but I grew up poor and heard this from black relatives who were adults. Repeatedly. I’ve been called white for everything from not liking sports, to skydiving, to being gay, to reading too many books. It got to a point where one relative is likely to call me (and others) white anytime we disagreed about something political. Never mind that this relative is a black Republican who believes Obama wants half the country on welfare, apparently I’M the one “acting white”. For some black people “white” is their descriptor for every black person who steps out of line with their own world view.

    I’m not going to pretend it didn’t affect my world view. I do fear that some black people are going to reject me because I don’t align with their expectations of what a black person should be. Having said that, I DO NOT enjoy being a token (and am not one at my job) because some white person is likely to say something that’ll make me bite their head off.

  • Jen Jen

    THIS! –> “Where faceless white male comics could come and go on Saturday Night Live, but black people had to be the perfect fit.” THIS! If I could put it on a t-shirt, I would wear it right now.

    I actually watch SNL, so Kenan’s comments and this conversation have really struck a chord with me. He doesn’t seem to see the double-standard. I’ve watched wack-a$$ comedians and writers come and go on SNL. but I’ve also seen Lorne Michaels give young comedians the chance to develop, mature, make mistakes, and become talented performers. There are staff writers who are given the opportunity to develop as performers and show their chops.

    Lest we forget: Jimmy Fallon was AWFUL on SNL. Dude could barely get through a sketch without breaking. Still gets on my nerves! But, Lorne Michaels groomed his a$$, gave him a talk show (which I am a fan of), and now he is about to host The Tonight Show. You can’t tell me that he (and many other performers on SNL) just walked into their auditions ready for primetime. They’ll tell you about their auditions. Some of them will admit they were horrible.

    It’s this assumption that a black comedienne (shoot, give me a Latina or Asian one!) must be like the chupacabra of comedy to get a place at the table. SNL is a place for young and hungry comediennes with good connections (audition by invitation only!). It’s always been a boy’s club (save during the Tina Fey era). The real problem is that those comediennes don’t have access to the SNL pipeline that gets you on the show.

  • Jen Jen

    +1 to Chescaleigh and Darmirra!

  • CommonSense

    Well I have to say that Lorne hasn’t been doing too well picking “talent” because SNL SUCKS!!!!!!!!! There is nothing funny about that show, I can’t understand how it is still airing! I so wish that MAD was still on because MAD was funny as *ell!!!!!! The black girl with the dreads was hilarious!!!! They probably took it off because everyone was watching MAD and not SNL!!!!
    They should bring MAD back!!!!!! Please!!!!!!

  • UgoBabeeeee

    i’m Keenan because i voiced an opinion different from you sensitive quick to jump on the woe be me am black…you guys are so lame and really need to grow up…..not everything is a slight….thumbs down back to all of you who gave me a thumbs down……and on top of that- go and hug transformer!

  • Dee

    Isn’t Maya Rudolph on SNL?

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    I have to say that this article rubbed me the wrong way, not related to the SNL stuff. It comes down really hard on people who managed to break through barriers, basically saying they aren’t more talented than others, and that they might dislike all Black people and themselves just because they got ahead. So when Black folks don’t get ahead its due to racism, and when they get ahead it’s not because they are twice as good as everyone else, it was also due to racism?

    I think most of the time a Black person gets ahead because they have the drive, skills, and experience needed to do the job and they knew how to get along. No one hires someone who is bound to fail and unable to do the job. Why would they choose an unqualified and talentless Black person when there are so many better ones applying for the same job? Do you really believe they just choose the first one that comes along? People had to work hard to get in places, don’t disparage that.

    It’s really strange when Black folks always expect Black people in high places to help them out, but call them all sorts of names behind their backs. It’s also strange when so many Black folks complain about wanting to be included everywhere but then call people “tokens” and not special when they get included. I think that as a Black person you just have to try to live the best life you can and ignore those who disrespect you because some people really are haters.

  • Dee D

    Did anyone at Clutch ready Kenan’s quote? Here it is:

    “It’s just a tough part of the business,” Thompson says. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”

    I don’t read that as black women aren’t funny enough.

    I have not clue how many black female comedians audition for roles on SNL (my guess is that it is small because I don’t know any black people that watch SNL) but lets say that only 5 black female comedians audition each year for SNL, it would not be hard to believe that all 5 of those women did not fit the part. First take into account that the writing for SNL sucks, then take into account that all of the writers for SNL are white, then take into account that perhaps 90% of SNL’s audience is white. It is not hard to imagine that black comediennes can’t pull off the stale jokes that the SNL writers have prepared for the audition.

    What I would love is for a show like In Living Color to come back on the air. I’m sure plenty of people will say it won’t be as good as the original (and it probably won’t) but I’d rather take a chance on that then wait around for SNL and their crappy writing….and you better believe that if In Living Color were to come back on the air and be successful SNL would find themselves a token black comedienne quick fast and in a hurry.

  • MommieDearest

    SNL hasn’t been funny since the Eddiie Murphy era.

    Maybe Kel wasn’t hired for SNL because he wasn’t willing to tap dance like Keenan does so willingly.

    Trust, once he has outlived his usefulness Michaels will kick him to the curb. I hope dude has solid investments and a backup plan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ari.joseph.5 Ari Joseph

    Ellen Cleghorne & Danitra Vance were the only black women on that show. I think?

  • ArabellaMichaela

    I don’t know what planet some of the commenters live on. Saturday Night Live-not funny? Are you for real? The skits are often hilarious. And, I would posit the show has a huge AA audience. I have often wondered “what’s up” with the perennial absence of black women cast members. Kenan Thompson’s explanation is ridiculous. I hope the reason isn’t that Lorne Michaels has “a problem,” because I have liked/watched SNL for over a decade.

  • tara

    Fat Keenan is the guy from high school who never got the girls. Now he is married a white woman and never looked back. Dumb fat ass.

  • http://myfemalepersuasion.com myfemalepersuasion

    you better PREACH on those “tokens” who think they are special, and do everything in their power not to be closely associated with their own kind in the workplace. self-hatred. i don’t know Kenan’s motivation, but good points raised.

  • http://myfemalepersuasion.com myfemalepersuasion

    i honestly haven’t watch religiously since the days of Eddie Murphy, so I can’t comment on how funny the show is. But at times when I have watched, it definitely wasn’t laugh out loud funny. I enjoyed Justin Timberlake though.

  • boo

    his wife looks like a porn actress (not even a star, just a girl who works in adult films…)

  • Mara

    This is the most brilliant post. In fact, it is 100 times more brilliant the article could ever be. Nothing else to say but wow. Thank you.

  • Sometimes articles are just words

    So not being included is bad but getting included makes you a token? Ok, thanks. Rolls eyes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/audie.atta Audie Atta

    Coming from someone who is not that funny…honey it could have been Kel and we would have never known the difference.

  • Laura Charles

    Kenan IS the black female comedian on SNL.

    I don’t watch that often, but when I do watch SNL, I swear, Kenan is always playing a black woman. Smh.

  • http://gravatar.com/mimiandy1683 MimiLuvs…

    *face-palm*

  • http://gravatar.com/mimiandy1683 MimiLuvs…

    IMO, the show is as dry as the Sahara desert during an eight month drought…

  • http://gravatar.com/mimiandy1683 MimiLuvs…

    I’ve read every comment and I believe a few people are misinterpreting Ms. Belton’s point of view in the article.
    Like I mentioned before, I know a significant amount of people who loves being the ‘only black person’ amongst the company of non-blacks. And they did not like having another black person on board.
    I’ve experienced this level of animosity several times, whether if it was from relatives (when they were in public social settings) to co-workers of mine. I even experienced that feeling from a stranger, when I attended a D&D tournament with a friend.
    When the tension became too high (mainly, when I thought that the situation would affect my job), I did confront these people about their behaviors. And they all told me (some did it in a round-about way) that they didn’t like me because I was the “new black” one.

  • http://gravatar.com/mimiandy1683 MimiLuvs…

    IMO, I don’t think you’re understanding what she is saying. Or choose not to understand. Take your pick.
    IMO, what Ms. Benton was talking about… Mmm, let me put it to you this way…
    Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play in the major leagues.
    (Now let’s add in what Ms. Belton was talking about)
    Jackie Robinson was the only black man to play in the major leagues and he preferred it to be that way, because being the only black player in the predominantly-white league meant that he was special. More special than those negroes who are playing in the negro leagues.

  • dirtychai

    I hope this was an “Ooh look a pretty butterfly!” moment. Perhaps you were reading while multitasking?

  • ….

    Wow didnt even know ppl considered snl funny(or ever). I always found the show treadful . My show has and will always be Mad Tv.

  • rhea

    What you are saying has nothing to do with his comment or with the article’s central argument. When men come on here and post inflammatory comments like the one you posted, everyone flies into an outrage. So don’t you come one here and post irrelevent, angry comments just to sound witty. It’s not.

  • Michael

    How s he a token black man? Jay pharaoh is black and on the show, and they have black writers, and all sorts of black associates who work on the show. And don’t forget Nasim Pedrad is a Persian woman, usually Iranian.
    If they have to have a black woman, they need to get the funny beautiful girl from the daily show. I’m white and have a huge crush on her.

  • http://myfemalepersuasion.com myfemalepersuasion

    I haven’t re-read the article, but I’m not sure I was commenting specifically on SNL because I don’t watch the show at all; my comment was probably about “tokens” in general. I have one where I work.

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