D.L. Hughley began writing his latest book, How Not to Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People, in a fit of frustration.
Hughley had recently reprised a comfortable role as a sharp-tongued truth-teller, making appearances on various networks to discuss what were then the freshly reported police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But it wasn’t until a particularly caustic interview in July 2016 with then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly that Hughley decided to air his grievances ― with the society we’ve created and the powers continually molding it to their liking ― through pages rather than performance.
In a sense, How Not to Get Shot is in keeping with Hughley’s literary traditions: Its punch power matches that of his previous books, I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up: How the Audacity of Dopes Is Ruining America and Black Man, White House: An Oral History of the Obama Years. But where his latest offering differs is in its author’s impatience with the status quo. In How Not to Get Shot, Hughley, a nimble storyteller, writes about race relations with the privilege of hindsight and admires how some of his predictions about racism and America’s aversion to solving it are coming into fruition just as he expected.
HuffPost talked to Hughley about his latest book, white fears and whether we’re allowed to laugh at Donald Trump.
Where were you mentally when you wrote this book? It is comedic, but the tone weaves between comedy and righteous anger. You’re talking about Kaepernick, you’re talking about politics, and this book preceded the Trump presidency. What brought this out of you?
It actually came as a result of being on Megyn Kelly’s show — remember back when she was still racist, when she was on Fox? (Laughs.) Now she’s on NBC doing cooking segments. Instead of using racial slurs, she uses nutmeg. But we had a contentious argument on her show about policing, and unbeknownst to me, she chose to bring out Mark Fuhrman, who everybody knows is a corrupt cop.
Ahh, yes. I do remember that segment.
If you think he’s a vital expert, then this conversation is doomed from the beginning. We had a discussion about how to comply and all the things you should say, and I told [Megyn Kelly], “The only place where racism doesn’t exist is Fox News and the police department.” And after that, I told myself, “You know what? I’m going to write a book.”
“Black people -- the most dangerous place for us to live is in white people’s imagination.”
Can you explain what you’re setting out to accomplish with this book? One of the themes seems to be you pointing out the hypocrisy in what white people advise black people to do to avoid danger.
In everything, I’m trying to give people a semblance of who they are. I want people to see themselves, but I’m doing it from a comedic vantage point. Oftentimes, many a truth is spoken in jest. And if you can be self-deprecating — if you can be analytical — you can learn things about yourself. But I never forget my gig is to make people laugh, but if an added byproduct of that is society seeing itself in a clearer picture, I’ll take that, too.
Given the fact that a good amount of what you do is meant to inspire self-critique, and Trump ― as a frequent target of yours ― seems to lack self-awareness, is Trump funny?
He is, to me. In a very sad way.
I think the old adage “You’ve got to laugh to keep from crying” is apropos when you talk about him.
Sure. I ask because I do wonder sometimes how we should countenance the lunacy and the dark humor that comes from seeing someone so unfit for his job. How do we laugh about that without dismissing the seriousness and the danger that comes with him?
Well, mostly, I’m just happy it wasn’t a black dude who destroyed America. People are still mad at Morgan Freeman for almost blowing up the world in “Deep Impact,” so imagine if it were real. I’m kinda just glad it ain’t us.
It’s just funny to me. It’s hilarious to me to watch this happen with all of the things that surround it. I mean, people who voted for Trump are telling other artists to stick to what they do. I’m like, “That’s off the table! You just voted for a game show host!” (Laughs.) Stop it. That’s something you don’t get to say anymore. And before that, you voted for Ronald Reagan. Stop.
I’d like to dig a little deeper into your interactions with Trump voters. We’re amid this national conversation about “civil” political discourse, but as a comedian, do you ever feel hampered by that? Biting commentary is something a lot of people in your industry rely upon, particularly during times like ours.
Yeah. As a black artist, especially. But look at the people who are talking to us about civility: Isn’t it funny that nobody wants Sarah Sanders to be turned away from a place to eat, but some of these same people didn’t mind when black people couldn’t eat in places? They don’t mind when certain people aren’t allowed to use the bathroom in certain places, even now. They don’t mind places who won’t serve cake to gay people.
“Isn’t it funny that nobody wants Sarah Sanders to be turned away from a place to eat, but some of these same people didn’t mind when black people couldn’t eat in places?”
Do you think being a parent has led you to be more outspoken out of consideration for the world in which your kids will be raised?
My goal is a little more simplistic than that. If I have communicated what I see, and you have seen what I see, that’s enough. I don’t know that that means people change, but I know that means people will see who they are. I think that’s the basis of things. When an officer shoots an unarmed black person and says, “I feared for my life,” what they’re trying to do is conjure the notion of the predatory, big, hulking black dude. I’ve said this before: “Black people, the most dangerous place for us to live is in white people’s imagination.”
I feel that. And at a certain point, the frustration is that black lives are being legislated by irrational white fears.
That’s right, but you can write it into law now. And all of the mechanisms that we’re using to build community trust are being abused. Like, if you have video cameras but you don’t let us see the footage until you have a chance to get your story together, that defeats the purpose of being “transparent.” That’s false transparency. You get to say you’re doing something, but you don’t really mean it.
You’ve been particularly critical of this process — the ways investigations are conducted after police shootings.
Having police investigate themselves is another root of the problem. That would be like the Wayans — they’ve got a big-ass family — that’d be like them being the judge, the jury, the DA and the prosecutor.
(Laughs.) Right, right. Judge Marlon would be hooking everybody up.
There are too many things we could do that aren’t even hard to do that we won’t do.
Will you explain what you mean by that?
When we talk about accountability, it’s only in reference to the community. “Teach your children to be accountable and respectful of the police.” Is it a viable option for a society to train its children to be more responsible and more expert than trained adults? You want children… to be more responsible for their actions than the people you pay to protect our communities. On its face, that sounds laughable.