Count Tavis Smiley among those unimpressed by comedian Bill Maher’s apology for uttering the N-word during Maher’s HBO special, Real Time.
When sitting down with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, Maher last Friday was asked if he would like to work in the fields of Nebraska.
“Work in the fields?” Maher replied, “Senator, I am a house n—–.”
Maher later apologized.
However, Smiley, a talk-show host, said he knows the pain of the epithet all too well. “I get why we refer to it as “the N-word.’ But he did not say ‘the N-word,’ to be clear.”
“Unlike Maher, I have never referred to myself as a ‘house nigger’ on national television,” Smiley wrote in an essay for Time.com. “I was, however, called a ‘house nigger’ on national television by the hip-hop music impresario Russell Simmons the very first night I hosted my own television talk show.”
“I will never forget what that humiliation felt like,” said Smiley.
After a call from Maya Angelou later that night, Smiley realized the comment was fueled by pain Simmons felt with the death of rapper Tupac.
Unlike this situation, Smiley said Maher’s comment was not fueled by pain but by ignorance. “It was haughty, hubristic and humiliating. He went too far,” said Smiley when asked what he felt about the comment.
“I know Bill Maher,” Smiley explains in his essay. “We have guested on each other’s television programs over the years. I suppose this is why so many people have reached out to me to ask, specifically, what I make of Maher’s comment.”
Smiley said Maher’s apology the next day did surprised him. Though he feels the media frenzy following the racial slur fueled the apology, Smiley credits Maher for stepping up. “Even after they’ve behaved badly, most comedians refuse to apologize.”
His apology was the first step, but Smiley says it isn’t enough.
“He has no idea what that humiliation felt like for viewers who have come to appreciate his comedy, candor and certitude, especially in this era of half-truths, bold-faced lies and alternative facts. He got lost trying to find the funny,” said Smiley.