If you haven’t seen the Weekend Update segment where Tina Fey discusses her alma mater University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the grotesque event held there, you need to watch it. You can find it on Saturday Night Live’s YouTube channel here.
Once you’ve seen it, there’s a lot to sift through apart from the obviously dark, albeit humorous message. Tina’s alma mater was a healthy, encouraging place for her. It was somewhere she felt at least relatively safe, and now that place is tarnished, unsafe for many people, but specifically Jewish people, people of color, and LGBTQIA people. This place is unsafe – and it’s not clear when it became so. I suspect it happened slowly, over time, bit by bit, as people pushed boundaries and became more and more open about their true feelings, much like in an abusive relationship.
In order to understand the full message, it’s necessary to call things what they are – the white nationalist, neo-Nazis who paraded boldly around Charlottesville’s UVA campus were not using their right to free speech. They were engaging in hate speech. They were not only threatening violence, they were violent. These people felt so convinced that they had a right to cause harm to other human beings that they forewent masks and let us see their faces. They feel as if they have the power to run people out of the country – any people they deem worthless, less than, or broken. People like your friends, neighbors, and family. Maybe even someone like you.
We’ve seen this before. It has happened several times around the world. For whatever reason, humans are bent on destroying those they fear or hate because we are offensive to them – they do not understand us and they don’t want to – they simply wish to cease our existence.
What’s worse, it has been such a gradual emergence that those who were ignoring it, or somehow not paying attention were caught off guard, unsure of what to do now that this intense hatred was out in the open. The police didn’t move when the violence started – they protected Nazis who caused harm to people who were peacefully protesting. What does that say about our police force? Can we trust them to change tactics and protect the peaceful and disband the destructive?
Here’s the thing – we can’t pretend this isn’t happening. This is a repeated pattern throughout history. But we are at the beginning of a new cycle. We can change it this time. It can be different. We will need to make difficult choices. We will need to speak up, to confront hate where it lives, even if it lives in the hearts of those we love. We need to educate ourselves, protect those around us, and be ready to support those who need us to speak out. If we do not, we become complicit with the hate around us.
Tina Fey’s bleak comedic speech was brave. It was bold. It speaks to the need for outspoken anti-hatred. And it also points to a chink in white nationalist, neo-Nazi armor. What does a powerful (or seemingly powerful) person or group fear? Loss of power. What makes something or someone lose power? A loss of fear. And what helps us lose fear? Laughter.
Tina Fey gave us a weapon to use against these despicable people. She gave us laughter. They are ridiculous for thinking they can divide us. They are exceptionally silly to believe that they are right to hate. And it’s utterly absurd to think that they can control us now.