Journalist Christopher Hitchens Defames Comedian Wanda Sykes

May 13, 2009
Reports have surfaced that author and journalist Christopher Hitchens used a defamatory slur about openly lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes after her performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner in Washington, DC this past weekend. New York Magazine's Daily Intel blog broke the story in a post titled "The Unseen Moments of the WHCA Dinner." The report gives a behind the scenes account of how various attendees behaved at the event, and in some cases, what they said. Here's how Daily Intel described the Hitchens incident:
By the end of the night, Christopher Hitchens was of course the last man (barely) standing, and he had some choice words for the evening's headlining comedian, Wanda Sykes. "The President should be squirming in his seat. Not smiling," he said. "The Black D**e got it wrong. No one told her the rules."
In criticizing Sykes' performance, Hitchens denigrates her by going after her race and her sexual orientation as a way of putting her in her place.  After last year's performance at the National Press Club, nobody criticized Stephen Colbert by calling him a "straight white male."  But Hitchens felt comfortable referring to Sykes as a "black d**e" as a way of dismissing her based on her identity, and took it even further by implying that is the reason she doesn't know "the rules."    In a country where people can be fired from their jobs for being gay, and where black women are paid 69 cents on the dollar compared to white men, it's all too common that people are judged based on who they are, not for their job performance.  It's despicable that Hitchens seems to engage in a similar approach - denigrating who she is as a way of attacking her performance.   We urge media outlets who are booking Hitchens to take into account the kind of rhetoric that he's so comfortable using so casually.