On what he called “the night African-American history ended,” Stephen Colbert defended white people against having to take part on a national conversation on racism in the wake of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act.
“Doesn’t that make racism worse, because it keeps reinforcing what race everybody is?” Colbert asked Tufts University professor Peniel Joseph. “This Voting Rights Act itself discriminated against the ability of certain states to change their voting laws based solely on the color of the people that these states tried to disenfranchise? Who’s the racist now?”
“When we think about race, democracy in this country and race relations, if white people are tired of talking about race, imagine how Black people feel. They’re exhausted. They’re exhausted after hundreds of years of having to talk about this. But discrimination continues.”
In a 5-4 majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court decided that Section 4 of the law, which monitored states trying to suppress voters of color, was no longer relevant, effectively killing Section 5, which ordered states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their election laws.
“We have evidently passed a magic moment at which we no longer have to worry about the Jim Crow states that used to prohibit minorities from going to the polls,” Colbert said. “They’re not gonna do that anymore because they haven’t done it since the Voting Rights Act was passed.”
“That’s the irony of this decision,” explained Joseph, who teaches African-American history at the school. “The Voting Rights Act has prevented racial discrimination in these states that used to basically outlaw African-American citizenship and voting rights, so today’s decision is really terrible for our democracy.”
Colbert pointed out Roberts’ argument that the data used to enforce the law was based on decades-old data.
“Why should we use that criteria from ’72?” he asked Joseph. “They didn’t even have cell phones then.”
“People tell me I’m white, and I agree with them because I agree with John Roberts,” Colbert said.
“If I don’t see race, and there’s disparity in outcome, isn’t it the fault of the person whose outcome is different?” Colbert asked. “I didn’t do what I did because you are or are not a black person.”
“Let me speak for a second,” Joseph insisted. “A brief history lesson: This country is founded on racial slavery.”
“It’s like if you don’t have your prostate checked,” Colbert said in an attempt to describe racism. “By the time it’s like a cantelope, [a] doctor can find it right away. If we remove all the protections at the polls, let racism go nuts for a few years, then we can go, ‘You know what? We did need it.’”
Watch Colbert and Joseph’s discussion, aired Tuesday on Comedy Central, below.