Apparently Bill Maher, the ultra-liberal talk show host who both entertains and annoys me, doesn’t understand what it means to be a black man. During a recent episode of his popular show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the host criticized President Barack Obama for not being a “real black president,” (whatever that means) in his response to the gulf region oil spill. Rather than paraphrasing, please allow me to quote Maher’s exact words.

“I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [oil spill] is where I want a real black president. I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt where you can see the gun in his pants. That’s — ‘we’ve got a motherfu**ing problem here?’ Shoot somebody in the foot.”

Let’s start off by saying that Maher’s joke would be really funny if it were shared around a kitchen table, or with those who understand the genuine heterogeneity of the African-American population. The problem is that making such a joke to an audience that is already inundated with black stereotypes does nothing good for a community that must consistently fight to have its humanity taken seriously. Most of us know that black men can be gangsters, scientists, fathers, police officers, prison inmates, basketball players, firemen and attorneys. Sadly enough, America is still trying to figure that out.

My concern about Maher’s remarks is related to my issue with Maher himself. Maher, who has dated black women (one was Karrine Stephens, aka “Superhead”) and prides himself on being “more down” than the average white guy, is the type of man who embraces black culture, but only seems to appreciate the “more interesting” aspects of who we are. He’s like the guy who hangs out with Italians and thinks that every cool Italian is a member of the mafia. I even remember Maher performing a relatively funny skit in which he did an old English translation of the lyrics of the rapper Eazy-E, even though most of his audience didn’t seem to know who Eazy-E was. I’ve never seen any other comedian do that, and the skit revealed to me that Maher is a serious fan of hip hop music.

I’ve always thought Maher’s jokes about drug use to be a tasteless way of exposing the kind of edgy, hyper-risky man that he actually is. The conservative nature of the black community and the black church dictates that many of us would be uncomfortable with Maher’s lifestyle, yet prominent African-Americans are forced to acknowledge the magnitude of Maher’s HBO platform.

Maher once made a joke to Dr. Cornel West about Dr. West “making booty calls.” I cringed while watching West, a devout Christian and Professor of Theology, uncomfortably wiggle his way out of the joke without becoming offended. Only a misguided individual would assume that Dr. West understands or engages in regular “booty calls” just because he happens to be a black man. Maher would never have targeted such a joke at Joe Biden.

Bill Maher’s persistent and overwhelming desire to mimic, reference and associate with black people reminds me of the white rapper who has more gold teeth and tattoos than the black guys around him. Most of us realize that Barack Obama, the Ivy League educated, latte-sipping liberal, is just as black as Pookie, the crack dealing ex-convict with 11 baby’s mamas. Perhaps Maher must learn that being black is not nearly as cool as he thinks, and to compare a black president to a gun-totting gangster is like assuming that every Asian can fight like Bruce Lee. While one can certainly appreciate the fact that Bill Maher accepts us on the surface, the truth is that he might need to be educated on what black culture is really all about.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com>

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