A brief list of names I’ve been called:
- The real racist
- “Secret KKK collaborator”
I believe those things as much as I believe my mother when she refers to me as the “smartest boy in the world” and my homeboy Marty Wesley, who once called my first-quarter performance “Jordan-like” when I was called into action after our starting point guard was late for a church-league basketball game. (Marty was also known for his quick release and would anger people who tried to block his shot by shaking his head while running to the other end of the court and saying, very earnestly with a wry smile: “Nice try, though.”)
I don’t have a Klan uniform and my induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame somehow hit a snag after high school. My point, however, is that once you step onto a public stage, criticism comes with the territory and it’s either a sign of narcissism or willful ignorance to dismiss the naysayers while accepting the praise. Either both are valid, or neither.
Which brings me to Kevin Hart’s recent announcement that he will not host the Academy Awards after social media activists dug up some tweets from nearly a decade ago using homophobic language. You can read a litany of think pieces dissecting whether or not Hart needs to atone for his remarks including The Root’s editor-at-large Issac Bailey’s and staff writer Monique Judge’s takes.
This is not about that.
The conversation about whether redemption for Hart is available or even necessary has devolved into a fractured discussion that includes conspiracy theories, false equivalencies and even accusations of censorship.
People whose bookshelves have original copies of the “gay agenda” alongside the Willie Lynch Letter and the VHS tape of Tommy Hilfiger’s confession that he doesn’t make clothes for black people have claimed that this is just another case of the establishment taking out another black man.
As someone who has written about the racist social media posts of the New York Times, Quinn Norton, Donald Trump, police officers, teachers and school board members, I don’t make it a habit of excusing people for doing and publicly saying dumb shit. Kevin Hart met the same fate as Roseanne Barr, Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Newcomb and Jets rookie quarterback Josh Allen. Newcomb and Allen faced the outrage, apologized and kept their jobs. Barr and Quinn Norton didn’t and were summarily let go.
But you know ... they’re trying to keep the brothers down. Most people don’t know, Kevin Hart was gonna buy Nickelodeon. Or as DJ Nphared said:
Comedian Michael Che and international turban model Nick Cannon have both defended Hart on the grounds that ... well, to be honest, my attempts at living a Nick Cannon-free lifestyle prevented me from watching his defense, but I presume it has something to do with double standards and artistic freedom.
While I tend to disagree with any form of censorship, the people who make all of these reoccurring, circular, facile argument always conveniently ignore one fact:
They said that shit publicly.
Hart was asked to host the Oscars because of his public persona and contrary to popular belief, social media is media. It’s right there in the title! No one snuck into his backyard and filmed him through the curtains making homophobic remarks. He said it to the world and then wondered why everyone was bringing up old shit.
Artists and public figures who tackle controversial subjects and make stupid comments do so by choice. When anyone places their talent, their art or their words into the public arena and ask for recognition, they have implicitly agreed to face any criticism. It’s part of the job.
It is fair to argue about what responsibility an artist has to their audience and the public but it is stupid for anyone to climb on stage, find the spotlight, say something that is meant to prompt a reaction from an audience and then complain about the reaction they receive.
Hart and all his defenders are basically arguing that comedians, artists and entertainers should be free to say whatever they want, even if some people consider it distasteful at best and harmful at worst. But in the same breath that they correctly point out that they have existential right to say these things, they also say:
“But if you don’t like it, shut the fuck up.”
That’s not how the world works.
Kevin Hart is arguably the biggest and most successful comedian on the planet. He earns millions of dollars for making people laugh. He is perfectly content with reaping the benefits of his art when people like it but rejects the valid criticism when people dislike his art or his public statements.
Even if the statements came from a different, decade-old Kevin Hart, he can’t make the argument that he is exempt from old comments while trading on the career-building work and art that got him to the point of hosting the Oscars. Being cool with the uproarious laughter but not the loud boos is like a basketball player believing he deserves two points and cheers from the crowd when he shoots an airball. Anyone who believes this should perform in front of their mirror and only shoot hoops in their driveway.
Ultimately, Kevin Hart is not hurt by any of this so-called backlash. He will still fill arenas. The wonderful thing about stand-up comedy is that–if all else fails—you can just do comedy. There will always be some people who find him funny and he will probably be more rich and famous this time next year.
But those who want to defend him shouldn’t present the dumb, shallow argument that Kevin Hart is a victim of anyone other than Kevin Hart. The mythical “cancel culture” is not attempting to sanitize Hart or force political correctness on him or any other comedian. Accountability and criticism are not the same as censorship.
Of all the hills one could choose to die on, perhaps this is the stupidest.
And if anyone should know, it’s the smartest Hall-of-Fame Klansman in the world.
Nice try, though.