Stephen Colbert’s Apology to Milwaukee Missed the Mark!

Milwaukee – Still Racially Segregated

Milwaukee Is A Predominately Non-White City – (but, you wouldn’t know that from media posts)!

January 2022

Stephen Colbert – The Late Show – Missed the Mark About Milwaukee!

Milwaukee, one the most racially segregated cities in the U.S., is in the news again. The Milwaukee Bucks are finally NBA champs again, after a decades-long drought. Which reminded me of another time Milwaukee made late night news, when in October 2021, Stephen Colbert of the Late Show, featured the city when he attempted a satirical apology.

I love the Stephen Colbert show! It is my favorite late night show! (Sorry Trevor Noah! You are a beautifully gifted comic, whose sharp wit is absolutely unmatched!) But, when it comes to must see tv, for me, Colbert’s The Late Show is the one. I say all this only to explain my utter disappointment with the comedian’s October 2021 apology to Milwaukee. It was cute. It was funny. It had the host’s trademark light-hearted and irreverent wit. Stephen’s running Sausage race, first against adults and then, hilariously, against kids was completely on-brand. Thus, as a pre-produced package, the segment hit its mark.

But, as an apology to Milwaukee, for me – a Black woman, it entirely missed its mark and was sadly tone deaf (something that rarely hampers the show).

The fifteen+ minute segment made Milwaukee look and feel like a good-ole, midwestern, “White” city. All the segments featured and focused on White Milwaukeeans. Yet, Milwaukee is, in fact, a majority non-White city. In other words, Milwaukeeans of color are the majority. Milwaukee is a city with melanin and color! 38.7% are Black; 19% are Hispanic; 4.3% are Asian, 4% are multi-racial; .6% are American Indian (this is the designation used in the census data – don’t blame the messenger for not using the “Native American” nomenclature). Only 35.1% of Milwaukeeans identify as White.

In his segment, Colbert spent time featuring and speaking with only White Milwaukeeans, most of them men: Beer-maester, Troy from Miller Beer – White man; American Field tail-gate attendees mostly White – the only ones he talked to were White; and Brewers’ Bench Coach Pat (who encourages Stephen to cheat) and Brent Sutter, Milwaukee pitcher.

And, lest we think the show merely relied upon the available talent, the Milwaukee Brewers have a number of players and coaches and coaches of color. And, granted, it would have taken a bit more effort to intentionally diversify the participants in this segment, reference could have somehow been made to  Black or minority-owned businesses; and in particular the historic though now defunct People’s Beer, the first Black-owned brewery in Wisconsin.

I attribute no ill-will or malintent on the part of the show, its producers or its host. That is actually a part of the problem. We have been trained to focus on overt and intentional acts, and to give a pass the those bourn of benign neglect or oversight. This year, in these bi-monthly posts, I am going to explain and (hopefully) show, why we must stop using this approach.

Stephen Colbert’s Late Show reaches far more people (particularly among those who aspire for racial parity) than other more overtly biased media. Therefore, the effects of its programming are far more expansive. Think of what might have occurred if the show had done the racial research and been more intentional in its production. It would have no doubt contributed to a more accurate and evolved perception of who looks like an American. Could it have advanced or at least begun to redirect the tide towards racial equity, by showing Milwaukee in all its beautiful color? Now, I have to say for fairness, the show clearly strives for this in its overall approach, which is – perhaps ironically – why this segment was such a failure for me.

It is important that all media and in particular late night tv highlight what America really looks like. Milwaukee is a city with mostly residents of color. So, any apology should be first and foremost to them!

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