The encounter between Tomi Lahren, the 24-year-old shooting star of conservative commentary, and Trevor Noah was billed as a bubble-bursting exercise that allowed Lahren to step out of her own echo chamber and into the largely liberal talking shop that is The Daily Show.
Tomi Lahren has made a name for herself as a strident critic of Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel rather than stand during the playing of the national anthem before games. On Black Lives Matter too, Tomi Lahren has made her views known, infamously comparing it to the KKK. On the show, Lahren referred to it as a violent militant movement.
In keeping with the listen-to-the-other-side-without-judgment-or-rancor tone to the debate, Noah invited Tomi Lahren to share with the audience what she would like them to understand about her and her values.
“I wish that we could disagree with each other without thinking that we are bad people or ill-intentioned folks.”
That was the uncontroversial part of Tomi Lahren’s response, but when Lahren rounded it off by saying that her criticism of Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter isn’t about race because she doesn’t see color, it raised loud hackles from the audience. The aghast reaction to this seemingly laudable statement by Tomi Lahren could be explained by the fact that this is a favorite line trotted out by the right as a way of painting themselves as perfect egalitarians and implying that those on the left are the real racists for constantly dividing people up into ethnic categories. It’s designed to make conservatives sound like the progressives ones and the left sound like they are the ones stuck in a pre-civil rights era. It’s a neat trick.
But what the likes of Tomi Lahren mean when they say that they don’t see race is that they see all people as being of born of equal value, with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Which is fine, but it willfully ignores the fact that while all people may be of equal value, they are not all blessed with the kinds of opportunities in life that someone like Tomi Lahren has. What the left understands is that, disproportionately, those who find themselves in this position are people of color, and that’s why the left talks about these issues – not to separate people, but to acknowledge and try to redress the structural inequalities inherent in society.
Toward the end of the interview, on the subject of Colin Kaepernick´s kneeling protest, Noah pressed Tomi Lahren on what she thinks is the best way for someone like Kaepernick and, by extension, the Black Lives Matter movement to exercise their grievances, if not by symbolic gesture and peaceful protest. Tomi Lahren parries the question and goes on about how grateful he should be to those who fought and died for the flag and how he shouldn’t be protesting against a country that has afforded him so many benefits. But Noah wouldn’t let Lahren wriggle off the hook and persisted to pin her down on the question.
“I asked you one question and that is how should a black person bring up their grievances…If that´s not the right way, if marching isn´t the right way. What is the right way?”
After Tomi Lahren touches on her own experience as a woman and feeling “marginalized in some way” because of it, Noah asks her how she protests this, to which we finally get the reply that all her previous filibustering was keeping at bay, “I don’t protest because I’m not a victim.”
Of course, this sentiment harkens back to the same point of difference between conservatives and liberals on the nature of equality. As far as Tomi Lahren and co. are concerned, everybody sets out with equal opportunities, thus anybody who claims to be discriminated against is simply looking to blame the system, other people, and especially white people for the fact that they are not getting ahead in life. They are simply choosing to shelter under the mantle of victimhood rather than pull themselves up by the boot strings. Tomi Lahren’s blind spot here again is her failure to recognize that some people never had any boot strings to begin with. For all its billing as an opportunity to break out of the echo chamber, in the end, Tomi Lahren and Trevor Noah still ended up preaching to their respective choirs.