Arts & Entertainment

On 'SNL,' Jay-Z wears a Kaepernick jersey and Alec Baldwin returns as Trump

Kate McKinnon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Alec Baldwin as President Trump in the opening sketch of the 43rd season premiere of <em>Saturday Night Live</em>.
Kate McKinnon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Alec Baldwin as President Trump in the opening sketch of the 43rd season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
Will Heath/NBC

Alec Baldwin has made noises about stepping down as Saturday Night Live's President Trump. But last night, he was right where you'd expect him to be — front and center in the show's 43rd season premiere: behind a desk, mishandling disaster relief.

It wasn't an especially clever sketch until Kate McKinnon materialized as an elfin Attorney General Jeff Sessions. She sat on the President's knee and begged him not to tweet mean things.

While the show's indelible impressions of politicians — Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan, Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush — are what people remember most, what spoke most directly to the political moment were other things entirely.

Jay-Z performed twice. When he played "Bam" (with Damian Marley, who is also featured on the album track), he wore a football jersey — but not representing any team. It said "COLIN K" on the back and carried Colin Kaepernick's "7" on the front.

Jay-Z's choice to align himself with Kaepernick other football players' protests against police violence felt weighty in a way that Baldwin's face-pulling rarely does.

That's not to say none of the sketches had weight. During Weekend Update, co-anchor Michael Che spoke directly to the president, mocking his response to Puerto Rico: "Write them a check with our money, you cheap cracker. In one month, you've mishandled Puerto Rico, DACA, the NFL. It's like whenever anybody darker than your golf pants has a problem, you're thinkin', 'How can I make this worse?'"

Che went on to address the matter of the flag as well: "It's hard to ask black people to respect the flag when we know that this country cares more about it than us."

What felt most current wasn't Saturday Night Live's signature sketches. Jay-Z was Jay-Z; the Che's bit could have been stand-up. But there is a thread that joins Kaepernick, Jay-Z and Che. 
Athletes, musicians and comics continue to demonstrate that audiences are not entitled to expect a realm of generic, apolitical blackness that separates itself from the real world. Or, as BuzzFeed recently pointed out, "Black Athletes Are Black People, And Black People Are Dying."

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