Saturday Night Live began its forty-second season . Sketches included Kate McKinnon playing a Golden Age actress who was “paid in brooches,” Margot Robbie as the odd member out of a Scooby Doo-esque mystery-solving gang, and Cecily Strong doing a pretty good Lin Manuel Miranda impression.
The highly anticipated face-off between McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump made for a hilarious cold open, and Leslie Jones got a chance to have the last laugh after the horrors she face online this past summer.
But one of the most talked about moments came during a “Weekend Update” bit about San Francisco 49’s player Colin Kaepernick, where Michael Che said the n-word uncensored on live TV.
In case you haven’t heard, Kaepernick has been kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
“Weekend Update” hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che riffed on the subject, with Jost saying that putting your hand on your heart is the only kind of dancing white people can manage, and Che saying that white men have every reason to defend the National Anthem.
“If I was white, I’d always defend the National Anthem,” said Che, “I expect white guys to defend the national anthem like I expected Phylicia Rashad to defend Bill Cosby. I’m sure when people were protesting The Cosby Show, Clair Huxtable was like ‘I don’t know what he did to y’all, but that n****a made me rich!'”
Except it wasn’t censored. Not when it aired live, and as of the writing of this piece, not censored on Hulu, either. If you have a Hulu account, you can check out the full segment here.
First of all, things happen on live TV. That’s what can make it so exciting. And this certainly isn’t the first time someone has dropped a not-so FCC friendly word on SNL. But, of course, the n-word isn’t the same as the f-word, and everyone immediately ran to Twitter to make sure they weren’t hearing things.
Michael Che definitely just dropped the N-word on #SNL and defended Kaepernick. Guess this is his last show. Nice knowing u bro!! Lol
— Celeste Ball (@CelesteMidwest) October 2, 2016
Anybody catch Michael Che say the N word ? that probably won't go over well the boss #SNLPremiere
— Jeff MacDonald (@jmacyourlife) October 2, 2016
For those wondering, yep Michael Che said the N word loud, clear & uncensored. #SNLPremiere
— Just L (aka Belaglik O'Biddy) (@JustLittleOldL) October 2, 2016
He definitely said it, folks, and it is definitely not bleeped on Hulu.
So there are a couple of things to parse out here. Some people will inevitably be unhappy that their delicate ears heard an uncensored swear word on live TV, and the FCC will probably have something to say to NBC in the near future. And that’s fair enough.
Rules about swearing on TV exist for a reason, and presumably some people allow their kids to watch SNL with the expectation that those rules will be adhered to. You don’t have to like swearing, or find it funny.
But let’s (and when I say “let’s” I mean my fellow white and/or non-black people) remember that a black person using the n-word is very very different from anyone else using it. Granted, people in the black community have nuanced views on the n-word, just as different women have different ideas about the c-word.
But it’s still not our issue. I was certainly surprised to hear it, and it took me a few minutes to register that Che actually said it, but I wasn’t offended. Partially because I’m the kind of person who loves swearing in its many hilarious and poetic forms, partially because I wasn’t watching with any children, but mostly because Che’s joke, and the overall controversy surrounding Kaepernick, isn’t about me. Or, at least, it’s only about me insomuch as I have privileges people of color do not, as evidenced by the police brutality Kaepernick is protesting.
What’s more, the fact that it’s still uncensored on Hulu makes me think this wasn’t an accidental slip up. Che certainly doesn’t flinch; and if it had been bleeped on streaming platforms, we could chock that up to a talented performer keeping his cool, but this feels purposeful.
Getting slip-ups censored before they go up online hasn’t been a problem in the past, why would it be a problem now? Surely it didn’t go unnoticed by everyone on the SNL team. Certainly Lorne Michaels didn’t find out about it via Twitter the day after.
Maybe the SNL team wanted to push the envelope a little, perhaps as another move in their mission to be more diverse. A Bill Cosby joke seems like an odd choice for such a statement, but considering Cosby’s stance on the word, maybe it was the perfect spot.
Or, maybe it really was a genuine slip up on Che’s part. Who knows?
In any case, until we learn more and unless your racial identity gives you a horse in the n-word race, be sure to judge of Che only as harshly as you’d judge any other cast member getting a no-no word past the censors.