It’s been a minute since The Amber Ruffin Show lit up Peacock with host Ruffin’s inimitable brand of deceptively chipper political comedy. Ruffin, in addition to her job writing for Late Night With Seth Meyers, was busy, along with pal and fellow writer Jenny Hagel, covering the just-concluded Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But, back in the states (and the Friday-vacant Late Night studio), Ruffin was indeed back—and back in front of a live audience for the first time in, well, a really long time.
There was plenty to catch up on, naturally, what with her state’s governor flaming out in a self-lit pyre of sexual misconduct allegations and simulacra of variously criminal GOP nutcases Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz leering through a handy on-set mail slot to heckle Ruffin’s return. Plus, she and sidekick Tarik Davis had some musical improv games and the odd silent musing fugue state to get to. (Anyone who wants to take a stab at imagining just what a Confederate Candle would smell like, head for the comments.)
But, like fellow cheeky newshound late-night host John Oliver, Ruffin spent a good part of her airtime exposing an overlooked piece of uniquely American unjust bullshit, here in the form of the continued inequality in school funding. Honestly, whether it was the novelty of a live (fully masked) audience or some leftover Olympics jet-lag, Ruffin was a little halting as she unpacked the whole racist “welfare queen” stereotype to show how segregation-happy white schools are leeching off of Black taxpayers. (As an aside, the intimacy of late-night hosts addressing the viewer directly rather than playing to an in-person audience is a tradeoff whose relative benefits will have to be evaluated as COVID reluctantly relinquishes its grip.) Regardless of momentarily mixing up “secession” with Succession at one point in her exposé, Ruffin came back from hiatus fueled with the conviction to utilize her platform for some satirical pubic good. Plus, as Ruffin noted, just like the plutocratic manipulations of the Roy family on Succession, school secession is also “a bunch of greedy white nonsense.”
Ruffin reached all the way back to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling on school segregation to show how, in the wake of that groundbreaking (yet far too long in coming) judgement that “separate but equal” is some racist nonsense, white parents and educators got predictably creative. Actually naming the all-white private schools they created to skirt school integration “segregation academies” wasn’t especially clever, but it did the job in perpetuating school inequality. Oh, sorry, is still doing the job, as Ruffin noted that some 200 of these private schools are still around today.
Adding to the injury is the fact that some two dozen states allow public tax dollars to be used to fund such disproportionately white, often religious private schools, and that it’s become a common practice for majority-white communities to secede (you know, like the Confederacy) from larger school districts in order that little Brayden, Jayden, and Kaeden don’t have to go to school with non-white kids. As ever, Ruffin’s comic asides (against the likes of Bill Maher and Dead Poets Society, among other very white things) alternated with plenty of inspiration for angry Googling, all while reassuring lovers of late-night that Amber Ruffin is back in the host’s seat and ready to get back to work.