Clarke’s history of slavery blooper stuns ‘Colbert’ viewers

September 6, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Park Slope Rep. Yvette Clarke’s blooper about the history of slavery in Brooklyn on Tuesday night’s “The Colbert Report” had viewers shaking their heads.

Clarke, whose district stretches from Brooklyn Heights to Brownsville, was the 79th guest for Colbert’s “Better Know a District” feature, in which Colbert’s comic persona interviews congresspeople from the 435 districts across the country.

After introducing some of the highlight of Clark’s district’s — the Prospect Park Zoo, the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn, the new Brooklyn Nets — Colbert asked the three-term representative what she would tell people if she could go back to 1898, the year of the “Great Mistake” when Brooklyn joined New York City.

“I’d say, ‘Set me free,’” she answered.

When Colbert asked what she would be freed from, she said, “From slavery.”

Colbert said he wasn’t aware that there was still slavery in Brooklyn in 1898, to which she said she was “pretty sure there was.”

Colbert pressed on, asking, “Who would be enslaving you?”

She answered, “The Dutch.”

New York state abolished slavery in 1827 after a long period in which slaves were gradually freed. The Dutch gave up control of New Amsterdam and Breuklen to the English in 1664.

Clarke press secretary Kristia Beaubrun told the Brooklyn Eagle that Clarke “realized that the platform was based on comedy, and answered accordingly [about slavery in Brooklyn].”

Asked whether Clarke knew that slavery was over by 1898, she answered, “Definitely.”

Beaubrun that there were “mixed reactions” to Clarke’s remarks, and “some people took it the wrong way.”

Later in the Comedy Central program, Clarke talked about her Jamaican immigrant parents. “One was from the farm, the other from the city,” she said.

“What did they grow?” asked Colbert. “Ganja? [Jamaican slang for marijuana].”

Clarke laughed and said no, but was impressed that he knew the word.

Colbert said he knew it from Bob Marley, then sang two lines from one of Marley’s best-known songs, “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight,” which Colbert said was Marley’s way of supporting the Bush tax cuts. “I doubt that’s what he was talking about,” Clarke responded.

Online, the gaffe was noticed by Politico (“Pol gets history lesson on `Colbert’”), the Village Voice, Politicker, the Huffington Post, Capital New York, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News and many others.

There were quite a few entries about the show on Twitter, most of them lightly humorous.

@bkcolin wrote, “It looks like Clarke has lost the Dutch vote.”

@postpolitics, a Washington Post tweet stream, posted, “Yvette Clarke struggles with history.” And @huffpostpol wrote, “This congresswoman could use a history lesson.”

Former Brooklyn borough historian John Manbeck told the Eagle, “The Dutch were involved in slavery, as were the British, but slavery in New York state was over in 1827. But 1898? It seems like a dumb comment.”

As Clarke’s spokesperson reminded, “Colbert Report” is, of course, comedy.


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