Is ‘Saturday Night Live’ the Answer to Our Diversity Ills?

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Lorne Michaels in an interview in the latest New York Magazine acknowledges his program has a diversity problem.

But he’s still delusional as he made this statement saying show business is “in the lead on diversity — way before sports, way before business, way before educational institutions, way before newspapers, way before almost anything else.”

Really, so what was that thing the other night on Saturday Night Live where in Melissa McCarthy’s opening monologue they mock Asians with a Kung-Fu send-up. Not totally racist there, at least not until they bang a gong and play funny Chinese violin sounds to introduce a guttural-sounding narrator who is not Asian but White.

NBC can’t hire an Asian actor to play an obvious Asian bit? Is Michaels that cheap or does he think having a White guy play an Asian is just funnier, like it’s some form of affirmative action for Whites?

Sorry, it just sounds like old-fashioned racism to me, the kind that diversity policies can fix.

I mean really, they put a White person in an obvious Black role, but why would you do that?

Would you really cast Vanilla Ice to play a role for a Black male?

Oh, but Michaels thinks show business is way ahead of other institutions on diversity.

Even educational institutions.

In the magazine interview, Michaels explains why he thinks that:

“We’re about talent. When you see it, you’re not fussy about where you find it or who it is. You just go, ‘Oh my God.’”

And he doesn’t mean you have to wait to hire God. You just know talent when you see one.

But it’s hard to believe Michaels is sincere when you see the numbers of Asian and, more recently, Black female comics who are out there and ready to fill in.

Michaels has finally rectified some of his problem by hiring Sasheer Zamata, the first Black female cast member since 2007, and hiring some Black writers to give her something to do.

But Asians? Latinos? He’s sadly in arrears.

The problem it seems was addressed somewhat in a piece recently in Slate where Tanner Colby tries to understand where’s the disconnect between diversity advocates and SNL.

I mean, really, just hire more diverse people, right?

Well, yes. But in Michaels’ head, it’s still a matter of the “right” diverse people to fit the tiny hole of a definition for “perfect cast member.” In other words, it’s still somewhat subjective.

Perhaps, it has more to do with corporate comedy and the money at stake. A show needs to have comedians hitting homeruns every time.

Maybe that explains why the show is funny about a third of the time.

It takes more to be the next Eddie Murphy.

Colby says at the heart of the problem may be our understanding of what we mean when we say the word “diversity.”

He writes: “For years now, from our television screens to our corporate boardrooms, we’ve been watching a tug of war take place: racial-justice advocates demanding more and more diversity and exasperated hiring managers exclaiming, ‘We can’t find any diversity! We’re looking hard, we promise!’

“One reason these two factions keep talking past each other is that they’re talking about two completely different things. When racial-justice advocates call for more diversity, what they’re saying is that the hiring pipelines into America’s majority-White industries need to be expanded to include a truly multicultural array of voices and talents from all ethnic corners of America; they want equal opportunity for minorities who don’t necessarily conform to the social norms of the White majority.

“When exasperated hiring managers use the word diversity, what they really mean is that they’re looking for assimilated diversity — people like [Maya] Rudolph and Zamata. More Bill Cosbys. More Will Smiths. Faces and voices that are Black but nonetheless reflect a cultural bearing that White people understand and feel comfortable with. . . .”

Is the word “assimilation” then really the key to all our diversity ills?

Get along, blend, and all will be remedied? On SNL? At work? In college admissions?

I thought we traded in the melting pot for the salad bowl a while ago.

More on that next week.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog)  Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok

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