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Nick Di Paolo flips off slain black activist in poster for new comedy special

Longtime stand-up and stalwart Louis C.K. defender Nick Di Paolo has a new special he’d like you to watch.

His pitch for inducing you to do so involves flipping the bird to a dead civil rights activist, whose offense toward Di Paolo appears to be having dared advocate for fewer black people to be harassed, beaten, and killed by police.

The marketing materials for Di Paolo’s “A Breath Of Fresh Air” – a collection of grumpy bon mots apparently so clamored for that it’s been released for free on YouTube – include a picture of the comic extending a raised middle finger toward a photoshop rogue’s gallery meant to capture the cultural forces he’s promising to bravely defy. Four are women – one brushing away tears, one yelling, one holding a megaphone, with a disembodied #MeToo sign ‘shopped in behind them.

The fifth is Muhiyidin Moye, captured in a Black Lives Matter tee-shirt with one hand outstretched in gesticulation.

Moye was killed in February 2018 in New Orleans. He was 32 years old. He’d spent much of his adult life agitating for changes to how American law enforcement and criminal justice systems address people of color.

Though not the household name or as instantly recognizable as such activists as DeRay McKesson, Alicia Garza, or Erica Garner, Moye – who sometimes went by Muhiyidin d’Baha – occasionally earned the same sort of media attention during his career, fighting against police violence and white supremacy.

The most prominent instance came in 2017, when he leapt across police tape to snatch a confederate flag from a white man who’d squared off with a group of protesters in Charleston, South Carolina. The flag-bearer was affiliated with the South Carolina Secessionist Party, which had sent a delegation to publicly object to the College of Charleston’s decision to host the activist Bree Newsome for a discussion of modern racial justice movements.

The briefly-viral moment was in keeping with most accounts of Moye’s particular approach to movement work, but far from a fair or adequate encapsulation of it.

In an obituary published by The New Yorker, the journalist and author Jelani Cobb recalled Moye as a fierce avatar of the element within the Movement for Black Lives that rejects conciliatory gestures and the tones of compromise. “He feared that the residents of Charleston, black and white, if left to their own instincts, would drift back to their default positions, an obscene mutual denial that all but enabled more of the same in the future,” Cobb wrote.

“Amid the cries that black and white were too divided, he had assessed an area in which they had forged an unstated unity and was doing his best to undo it in the name of honesty and a chance for actual progress.”

Though born in New York, Moye had made Charleston his home and was at the front lines of protest over both the murder of Walter Scott – for which the former police officer Michael Slager is now in prison, after initially escaping conviction in a trial where prosecutors proved he’d planted a weapon on Scott after calmly shooting him in the back as the 50-year-old ran slowly away from Slager – and Dylann Roof’s murderous attack on black parishioners two months later.

It’s unclear why Di Paolo chose Moye as one of the faces in the crowd of people agitating for a world with less racism, less rape, less brutality, and more accountability for those who abuse their power over others. If he wanted to insult a dead civil rights champion, he would have had plenty of choices. Activists within the movement have turned up dead at a striking rate in the years since the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland finally drew white attention to the thousands-strong list of those killed, beaten, and humiliated in the name of the law.

Some, like Moye, have died violently in suspected homicides. Others, like Danye Jones, are believed to have taken their own lives. Garner’s daughter Erica died in a hospital bed after suffering a massive heart attack over Christmas in 2017.

All likely suffered to one degree or another from what sociologists term “black battle fatigue,” the particular form of traumatic stress accumulation that attaches both to those activists who choose to spend their lives standing with victims of racial injustice whenever possible, and to people of color simply trying to lead a dignified existence in a society built to dehumanize them on a perpetual basis.

Their hardships do not mean the world should deprive Di Paolo of space to air his own grievances. His work generally makes an effort to mine outside incursions into safe, middle-of-the-road sensibilities for reactionary comic relief, and makes a game effort to position itself as equally opposed to both left- and right-wing disruptions. It’s unclear how flipping off a dead black guy is meant to be consistent with this type of comedy.

In the marketplace of ideas, Di Paolo’s past entrants include the claim that women sexually assaulted by his friend Louis C.K. were complicit in their own abuse. According to a clip from the special he’s advertising with a dead man’s likeness, the comic’s current beefs include the fact that they named a highway rest stop after Vince Lombardi. Trenchant stuff.

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