In this clip from satirical news program The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart highlights the absurdity and racial bias of a 2015 incident captured on video showing a White Texas Police officer breaking up a teenage pool party, in which he unholsters his weapon, shouts expletives, and forces a young, unarmed Black woman in a swimsuit to the ground. The videos of the incident went viral and sparked national outrage and debate about excessive force used by law enforcement, exacerbated by the fact that the officer in this incident is White, and the young woman and people at the party are predominantly Black. Through this satirical news segment titled “Assault Swim,” Stewart talks with field reporter Jessica Williams, a Black woman wearing a bikini over body armor, for an “on-the-scene” update. Their exchange offers a humorous and honest look at race relations in Texas and the nation as a whole by highlighting racial inequities and discrimination related to this incident, with jokes and comments about how “white people always want to touch our hair,” and commenting on what firearm possession means in the hands of different racial groups.
At the time of this incident, the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining more traction and fresh memories of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, both of which were sparked by deaths of black citizens at the hands of police, contributed to tensions between Americans and their police forces that were only worsened as a result of this incident.
At one point in this segment, Jessica Williams says that the incident is “progress” because “a cop pulled a gun on a black kid and nobody is dead.” What do you think? How do we define “progress” when thinking about U.S. race relations?
Jon Stewart’s hosting of The Daily Show is known for its ability to garner attention for issues such as the 9/11 First Responders Act through his use of comedy. How effective do you think his argument is in this video? Does this piece challenge race relations in the United States or is it simply a piece of comedy?
In the video, Jessica Williams makes several comments about race while Jon Stewart only makes statements about Texans and a general prevalence of similar incidents. How might this piece have played differently were it solely Jon (a White male) tackling these issues about race, racism, and racial inequality rather than hearing these ideas from the field reporter Jessica Williams (a Black woman)?