Opinion: Why SNL’s addition of Leslie Jones shouldn’t be a race issue

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Mike Richards is a senior English major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Mike Richards

I’m expecting to immediately hear, “Yes, Mike, this actually is a race issue, you’re wrong,” or anything along that line that may be either nicer or not as nice. Be gentle.

There is no denying that Saturday Night Live lacks proper diversity, and I’m not here to defend that. I actually don’t really want to talk about it all too much, because with that, it becomes that race issue I want to avoid.

Headlines will read “SNL Adds Black Woman to Cast” instead of reading “SNL Adds Leslie Jones to Cast from the Writers’ Room,” or “SNL Adds Funny Woman Leslie Jones, Featured on Weekend Update Segments, to Cast.”

I mean, I’m not going to take that away from her, though. She was hired along with Sasheer Zamata and another writer, all three being African-American women, this past January with Zamata becoming a featured player. What needs to be looked at, though, is the fact that she is rather funny and not just a diversity addition that came about the backlash toward Lorne Michaels and his show because of their clear lack of diversity amongst its cast.

Jones gained a bit more spotlight when in a [controversial] “Weekend Update” segment back in May featured her coming on as an “image expert,” where she spoke about Lupita Nyong’o being named “People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Person.” Jones began talking about herself being a top choice for “most useful” and making comments about slavery, something that will immediately become touchy to anyone who can’t lighten up. Not that slavery is a light issue, and it was a risky segment, but Jones’s strong, in-your-face delivery was spot-on, and continues to be spot-on in each segment she had been featured in since.

She brings a hilarious and abrasive personality to the cast, which is something it strongly lacks. Why does no one ever talk about that? The fact that this cast now is…well, the cast is good, but they are young. And those who are not young are staple characters and don’t necessarily have that power that Jones will bring.

It’s a shame that until Jones can make a name for herself on the show, something they haven’t let Zamata do just yet, she will just be seen as a headline—“SNL Adds Black Woman to Cast Because Lorne Michaels Became Scared of Backlash.”

I understand that this a great achievement for her, for diversity, and I’m glad Michaels is listening. You know, maybe this actually is a race issue. It’s a race issue because it was made a race issue. The moment you have to publicize her race in order to catch the attention of the audience, it acknowledges a race issue. If all that was noted was “Leslie Jones, who was hired to as a staff writer back in January along with the hiring of Sasheer Zamata and LaKendra Tookes (the other writer),” then we can start to move past the issue.

Again, this being a touchy comment, I’ll elaborate and sum it up.

Focus on her humor more than you do her race. When Michael Che was promoted from being a writer to being a “Weekend Update” co-anchor, it was noted very briefly about him being African-American because he’s funny and made a name for himself on “The Daily Show” as well.

Conclusion: Let Jones shine on through her in-your-face humor because I’m thinking she will do just that.