Stephen Colbert isn’t “Stephen Colbert” any more (except when he is). But the fact that the longtime talk show host abandoned his fake conservative shtick in favor of a more straightforward late-night gig only means that viewers don’t have to hack through all that pesky irony to get right to the political material. And if we sometimes miss The Colbert Report’s pricklier take on the events of the day, at least this Stephen Colbert can likely end his work night without having to strip off several layers of faux intolerance, ignorance, and conservative awfulness. Even pretending to be a right-winger has to be exhausting.
And so, even though Colbert does a whole lot more celebrity interviewing than he used to at his old gig, the veteran satirist can still bring the heat in his monologues and the occasional biting comedy bit. Taking on the current spate of Republican bills, laws, and pressure campaigns designed to stop the teaching of actual American history (and thus spare white people’s delicate fee-fees), Colbert on Wednesday first ran down some of the most egregious GOP measures.
You know, like the New Hampshire GOP’s statewide ban on teaching anything that casts the founding and history of the United States in anything but a blindingly white positive light. (Sorry, Native Americans—that whole white supremacist genocide thing just never happened in New Hampshire.) Or Virginia, where a GOP-staffed tip line touted by Governor and perpetual high school bully Glen Youngkin seeks some Soviet-style ratting-out of any teacher introducing “divisive subjects.” “That’s a tough rule,” noted Colbert, “especially since ‘divisive subjects’ include all of history, and a big part of math.” As for Florida, well, as Colbert put it, “When it comes to dumb ideas, there’s dumb, and then there’s Florida.”
That’s where GOP lawmakers under Governor and COVID henchman Ron DeSantis are attempting to pass a law that would literally criminalize white “discomfort,” in schools and businesses that, just to pluck one example from the Sunshine State’s swollen citrus crop of racism, dare to mention that Florida was home to the most lynchings per capita from 1880 to 1940 than any state except Mississippi. (Don’t worry, Mississippi Republicans are also attempting to ban any discussion of Mississippi’s own violent racist history.)
Still, Colbert is nothing if not helpful to his fellow white people terrified that America’s undeniable, thoroughly documented, and very much ongoing legacy of structural and individual racism will make them feel the remotest twinge of inconvenient uneasiness. Throwing to an ad for America’s latest party game of harsh and annoying censorship, Colbert’s Late Show players showed just how Taboo: White Fragility Edition can keep your next social gathering sailing along without any troubling conversational topics. If you’re white, that is.
Each card contains the venerable party game’s list of banned words, with the sketch’s two white players hitting the no-no buzzer when their one Black guest tries to introduce such divisive topics as “slavery,” “injustice,” or the word “Black.” (“Denzel” is also on the list, just to be safe.) After the increasingly bleeped-out and frazzled Black guy storms out, the white couple is delighted to guess that Martin Luther King was just that “great guy,” no further elaboration needed (or allowed). After all, as Colbert summed up white Americans’ current purge of potentially cringey and instructive facts about systemic racism, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to be a-okay.”