By Heather Gardner
June 05, 2020 at 09:17 AM EDT
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NBC; ABC (2)

When late-night shows hit the airwaves this past Monday evening, the tone was somber. It’s summer and several of the shows were on a pre-scheduled hiatus, leaving only five with the difficult task of broadcasting an entertainment/comedy show following nationwide protests over the brutal death of George Floyd.

The mood was heavy, with few jokes as Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and James Corden each addressed their audiences. Their originally planned celebrity guests had all been scrapped. Instead, each host invited activists, black entertainers, and black team members to share their personal stories of racism and offer messages of unity.

On Late Night, Seth Meyers only spoke for 30 seconds before turning it over to writer Amber Ruffin, who described a terrifying encounter with a police officer when she was just a teenager. “Black people leave the house everyday knowing that at any time we could be murdered by the police,” she told the camera.

Ruffin proved her words by sharing yet another confrontational police story with the “Late Night” audience later in the week. She explained how an officer stopped her for merely skipping through an alleyway with a friend.

Sadly, the stories of racism in America are all too common. James Corden on “The Late Late Show” invited band member Reggie Watts to share his experiences. The segment quickly became emotional as Watts burst into tears talking about racism he endured while growing up in the Midwest.

Several celebrity guests this week also recalled a heartbreaking reality for black parents: having the all too familiar “police talk” with their children. On Jimmy Kimmel Live, Shaquille O’Neal described the tough conversations he’s repeatedly had with his two sons. “I just try to tell them to just comply, to just listen. But a lot of times that doesn’t work either… From the videos I’ve seen with Mr. Floyd, he was complying.”

Oscar winner Regina King recalled similar conversations with her own son while talking with Kimmel. “I think in most of black homes, it’s not just a conversation, it’s an ongoing conversation and it never stops.”

Late-night also showcased prominent activists who brought messages of not only hope, but also actions that every American can take to make significant change in our country, and most importantly, change our way of thinking.

During the height of the protests over the weekend, rapper Killer Mike made headlines with an impassioned speech to his home city of Atlanta. While talking with Colbert on Monday, he had homework on how to be better educated on racial injustice. He called for white Americans to watch videos by anti-racist activist, Jane Elliot, and recognize their prejudices.

On Late Night, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors advocated for Americans to support defunding the police as a step towards better serving marginalized communities. “What we start to realize so much in our communities that are divested from, that have little access to health care, educational opportunities, access to jobs and healthy food, is that our city governments are using our tax dollars to primarily pay for an economy of punishment over an economy of care.”

This was a tough week, and late night toned down the comedy in order to channel the same emotions felt by Americans this week, from sadness, to anger, and even fear. More importantly, the late night shows were able to use their airwaves as platforms for impactful change towards racial justice.

  • Campaign Zero, which is dedicated to ending police brutality in America through research-based strategies.
  • Color of Change, which works to move decision makers in corporations and government to be more responsive to racial disparities.
  • Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal services to people who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial, or abused in state jails and prisons.

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