Fans of Late Night With Seth Meyers’ writer, comedian, and all-around force for good and joy in the universe Amber Ruffin already know the future host of The Amber Ruffin Show (coming to Peacock later this year) is just about the least threatening person in the world. Unless you’re a bigot, idiot, liar, or (completing the rare trifecta) Donald Trump. Still, seeing Ruffin coming is, for everyone else, an invitation to smile, laugh, and maybe prepare to be hugged. Or, if you’re a white Chicago cop, whip out your gun, order her to spread ’em, and start screaming in immediate, red-faced fury.
Following up on her appearance on Monday’s Late Night, Seth Meyers turned over the top of Tuesday’s show to Ruffin for another story of terrifying, genuinely life-threatening treatment at the hands of the police. Being Ruffin, both stories are laced through with entertaining turns of phrase and her signature sparkling delivery, but, like Monday’s tale of the teen Amber being pulled over by an inexplicably hostile white police officer, her Tuesday anecdote about the time she almost got shot in a Chicago alley by another white cop is no-joke harrowing.
The idea that black people have to be extra cautious about not seeming dangerous to white people is a matter-of-fact pressure every African American internalizes soon after birth. W. Kamau Bell, on Tuesday’s Tonight Show, shared his own coming-of-age moment where his no-bullshit mom (who sounds awesome) took the 10-year-old Kamau to a store and loudly pointed out the store detective suddenly and inevitably following them around. As Bell told Jimmy Fallon, that perpetual fear of being arrested as a kid has stuck with him as he routinely pats himself down when leaving any store, since, as a now large black man, “I’m afraid of being murdered” over any 911-happy store clerk’s mistaken impressions. But, as noted earlier (and echoed by Ruffin in telling her run-in with hair-trigger hostile law enforcement), Amber Ruffin is not a burly, 6’4” black man, but, well, Amber. Even more Amber was how she—happy at being back in Chicago to see a friend—was literally moving down the alley in question (which abutted a police station, and you see where this is going) in the least confrontational manner possible.
“I’m a young, adorable delight, literally skipping down the street,” is how Ruffin described herself at the very moment she suddenly found herself at gunpoint, being screamed at, and wondering if her friends were going to have to process her inexplicable death the next day. Noting that, unlike the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, there were no cameras on scene in the alley, Ruffin imagined her (presumably white) friends sadly musing, “Attacking an officer doesn’t seem like something Amber would do, but…” Addressing the ongoing protests that have caused sweaty and terrified white man Trump to call out the National Guard to keep all these angry black people off his lawn, Ruffin explained patiently, “Every black person I know has stories like that,” and asked (again, white) viewers to imagine the accumulated anger and frustration of 43 million black people with a lifetime of such experiences all watching George Floyd be senselessly murdered, on camera. “If you’re not angry,” concluded Ruffin, “why not?”