Jimmy Kimmel opened his monologue with some expected jokes about President Trump’s tear-gas-fueled photo-op Tuesday night. But things really got interesting when he shifted gears and looked at himself.
“Over the past week, I’ve been hearing and reading very thoughtful posts and words from very smart people, some of whom say white people shouldn’t be talking now, they should be listening,” the late-night host told viewers from his house. “And I get that. And I don’t disagree with that. But I’m the only one here and it’s a talk show.”
So he decided to share some of what he has been thinking about over the past week. “I know that a lot of white people bristle when they hear the word ‘privilege,’ as in ‘white privilege,’ because there are millions of white people who did not grow up with money, or a good education, or a solid family background, or maybe even a family at all.”
Kimmel said it’s “easy to get defensive” when that phrase comes up, admitting, “The first time I heard it, I did. To me, white privilege was what Donald Trump had, a wealthy father and a silver spoon in his mouth. It wasn’t what I grew up with. I rejected it because I didn’t understand what white privilege meant. But I think I do now.”
The host proceeded to explain white privilege, as he sees it, in the simplest terms possible. “People who are white, we don’t have to deal with negative assumptions being made about us based on the color of our skin,” he said. “It rarely happens, if ever. Whereas black people experience that every day. And please don’t tell me you don’t ever make assumptions about people based on the color of their skin, because I don’t believe it. We all do. I know I have. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I have.”
He urged his white viewers to “imagine, if you can, how frustrating it must be to have to prove yourself, to be something other than what people assume you probably are, every day. Sometimes multiple times every day.”
“Imagine how frustrating it must be, to get handcuffed, or frisked, or pulled over, just because you’re black,” he added. “Even if the cop looks in the car and goes ‘OK, everything’s fine, have a nice day, how do you swallow that and move on with your day? I don’t know about you, but that would make me furious.”
“So if you’re wondering why people are angry, and why they can’t just march nicely in the street, holding up their signs in a single file line, maybe that’s why,” Kimmel said, before offering up this succinct definition that has been making the rounds online this week: “‘White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It just means the color of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder.’ Wherever you stand, I don’t see how you can argue with that.”
No, it wasn’t a message that people of color necessarily asked for or wanted. But for everyone else, it may have been exactly what they needed to hear.