Sacha Baron Cohen the post-racial clown

Ali G. and Sacha Baron Cohen represent white subjectivity. He represents the white person’s desire to move on from racism. Because they’ve moved on, they can make fun of racism as satire. It doesn’t matter if it’s indistinguishable from minstrelsy in many ways; they’re performing racism to criticize racism. In their mind, they have successfully moved on to the point that it is now acceptable to satirize with racial stereotypes. You’re only racist, if you believe it’s real!

Absent from the minds of white admirers is that white people have, historically, always wanted to move on from racism. Despite the fact that we have never stopped being a racist nation. Why are white people so eager to normalize racism? Why do they want to say the n-word so bad? Why do they perceive the taboo of racial stereotypes as an infringement of their freedom? Why can’t they move on from such stereotypes? Why do they want to move on from the taboo instead?

Cohen simultaneously criticizes and entrenches racial stereotypes. Unlike the overt racism of Donald Trump, such liquid racism is more difficult to analyze. It must be discerned whether the act seriously challenges the racial hierarchy of contemporary society. Without a doubt, Cohen does not challenge anything. Borat, perhaps his most challenging film, is only challenging on the surface level. He does a brilliant job at pointing out the post-911 hysteria and islamophobia of the US. Yet, he does not question the fundamental structures that enable such racism, which is evident in his choice to satirize Kazakhstan as a nation. Cohen is only concerned with his white audience. He wants to offend and educate them. Yet, the plight of Kazahks in the west doesn’t even enter his mind. In other words, Cohen is trapped by the white gaze. His ultimate project is a liberal utopia, in which there aren’t any Trumpers. In his utopia, Latin American immigrants’ labor will still be exploited. Black people will still be policed and jailed disproportionately. Such problems will persist, because he won’t question the subtleties of white supremacy and capitalism. Instead, he wantst to remedy such issues by white people satirizing racial stereotypes! At least we don’t have any taboo! It’s a sign that we’ve progressed!

Another important element of Cohen’s liquid racism is his racial status. White people are comfortable with Cohen taking up his role, because he’s ethnic enough. There is enough non-whiteness in his make up to “justify” minstrelsy. Sacha Baron Cohen’s mother is an Israeli of German origin. His father is a Jewish person of European origin. In other words, he’s white but not quite white enough. This is why he shares the white person’s desire to move on from race; at the same time, he can act as their dancing, post-racial clown. Sadly, Cohen appears to be a victim of the very system he enables.


“Ali G expresses three strands of liquid racism. These are ‘postmodern minstrelsy’ — Ali G as a black man, ‘ethnocultural hybrid racism’ — Ali G as a white man pretending to be black, and ‘anti-Asian racism’ — Ali G as an Asian man pretending to be black. It is the combination of the three and the erasure they inflict on one another that creates liquidity. Finally, some non-racist themes in Baron Cohen’s comedy are outlined that encourage analytic confusion.”

“Howells ultimately extracted a sense of utopianism from Cohen’s work. His message was that if we as a society can laugh about ‘race’, like we do sex, then that will be beneficial to wider social relations. The extent to which ‘race’ can be a laughing matter to those whose everyday lives are shaped by the forces of racism across Britain and the world is, however, another matter.”

Sacha Baron Cohen is a racist

Liberals love Sacha Baron Cohen, because he exposed the absurdity of Republicans. Yet, they say nothing about his racism and their complicity in it. Satire doesn’t excuse routinely portraying negative stereotypes. It actually affects people. For example, Kazakh students in the US and UK were mocked because of Borat. Kazakhs have no representation at all in the west. Frankly, Cohen’s intentions do not matter. The consequences are indubitable: Borat made life worse for many Kazakhs in the west.

Furthermore, Cohen’s horrible film, The Dictator, buys into lazy and trite stereotypes that arab dictators are “maniacs.” Anyone who reads history will know that Gaddafi is not a simpleton. For most of his life, he was an intelligent and charismatic leader who saved the Libyan economy. Yet, westerners have no knowledge of this fact. All they know is that he’s a “horny maniac,” because Libyans have no standing in the west.

Satire loses its edge when the target is powerless. Libyans and Kazahks have no social capital in the west. James Franco’s film, The Interview, is horrible for similar reasons. North Koreans are only presented as fat, ugly maniacs or brain-washed goons. Unsurprisingly, Cohen mocked Kim Jong Il’s death at an awards ceremony, dressed as Gaddafi. Unlike Republicans, none of these people have a standing to be ridiculed. Cohen, for the sake of pointing out his country’s racism, will drip himself in racist portrayals that negatively affect these people. Shock value is his game, and it’s more important than Kazahks and Libyans.

Liberals will now jump on me, and they will scream that they knew Borat and The Dictator did not attempt to portray real Libyans and Kazahks. Certainly, most of you noticed, because it’s pretty obvious. Nonetheless, do you know anything about Kazahkstan? Or Libya? Have you read Gaddafi’s political treatises? Have you read about his contributions to Libya’s economy? Do you know that you’ve probably asked offensive questions to people of color? Probably not. Your ignorance is cut from the same cloth that makes Republicans look ridiculous in Borat. Borat, The Dictator, and Cohen’s recent show are praised for “showing America’s true colors,” but honestly it should be titled “only exposing Republicans.” Cohen is noticeably softer on liberals; they consume his products, after all. Yet, liberals are the ones who ask me every year whether I’m from North or South Korea. Liberals like Bill Maher make islamophobic comments all the time. Liberals are not fundamentally distinct from Republicans. They both want capitalism. They both want to impose sanctions on North Korea. They both supported the Iraq War. They both supported the Prison Industrial Complex and the racist war on drugs. The list goes on. This is the deeper problem in America — and in all western nations. The entire country is racist (ignorant), and their victims are voiceless. Borat only strengthens that ignorance. Socio-political analyst Ghada Chehade has written about this as well. 

A liberal might interrupt me now, and point out that except for Borat, Cohen’s other films ridicule “maniacal” dictators. Isn’t that better? Not really. Kim Jong Un, for example, is always portrayed as “irrational.” But, every political expert will tell you the opposite. We don’t need to coddle up to Kim Jong Un to portray the man accurately.  Yet, why does the west give him zero representation other than negative stereotypes? Why do they keep the population ignorant on US involvement in North Korea’s current state? Or Gaddafi’s achievements as a leader? North Korea has tried to denuclearize before, yet George W. Bush sabotaged sensible deals made with Bill Clinton. He then declared North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil along with Iran and Iraq, the latter of which he destroyed. Obama racked up the tension by carrying out provocative military drills near its border, which included simulating assassination and B52 bombers capable of dropping nukes. Furthermore, Obama invaded Libya, which gave up its nuclear weapons. None of these facts are ever mentioned by the mainstream media. Instead, North Korea is just portrayed as an irraitonal actor. What kind of role do you think these negaitve stereotypes play in the larger narrative?

Some might claim that it’s just “benign ignorance.” If so, why is this “benign ignorance” allowed and sustained by those who know better? Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense under Barack Obama, has openly talked about many of the things I mentinoed above: North Korea is not irrational, there is a complicated history between US and NK, and etc. William Perry, former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, is even more sympathetic to North Korea — and he’s talked about this openly too. The US military is clearly aware of the things I have pointed out above. Yet, why aren’t these voices as emphasized as the negative steretypes? Why was Hussein suddenly demonized, despite US presidents like Reagan praising him as “great leader” in the past? Why is Gaddafi now a joke? All in all, one should be wary of ridiculing dictators who have no social capital in their country.  We should be learning more about the other. Without prior knowledge, satire becomes a blank canvas for racism and xenophobia.