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Comedian Chelsea Handler On White Privilege

NOEL KING, HOST:

Chelsea Handler is a specific kind of comedian. She's in-your-face funny. Last year, she had a Netflix special called "Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea." It's about race.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HELLO, PRIVILEGE. IT'S ME, CHELSEA")

CHELSEA HANDLER: I'm clearly the beneficiary of white privilege. I want to know how to be a better white person to people of color.

KING: NPR's Sam Sanders talked to Handler. And here's part of that conversation.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: For years, Chelsea Handler's comedy was loud and often racially insensitive. She named one of her books "Uganda Be Kidding Me." She once had a Latino co-star on her show dressed up as Hitler to celebrate Germany's World Cup victory. And there are too many offensive Chelsea Handler tweets to mention. But a few years ago, that began to change. After Donald Trump won the presidency, Chelsea Handler sought professional help.

HANDLER: So I kind of went into therapy under the subterfuge of, like, oh, I'm going to, you know, go learn how to talk to conservatives. What I was really doing without saying was like, OK, I need to figure out what my, like, you know, anger issues are really about.

SANDERS: Handler went to therapy to work through her politics, but she ended up dealing with race.

HANDLER: After taking a look at myself and coming to the realization that my success has a lot to do with my skin color, I wanted to really do something that set an example about how to contribute because at this point, it's not enough to just say you're not racist. We have to be working to dismantle the system because we are reaping the benefits in exchange for people losing benefits.

SANDERS: Handler made an about-face. She released a Netflix special last year all about white privilege. She talked with civil rights experts and white Republicans and even her black ex-boyfriend's family about racial justice. Flash forward one year after nationwide protests against police brutality. And a lot of liberal white women like Handler - they are now beginning their own journeys with race. What is it like watching a lot of white women who might share your politics come into those same conversations a year later?

HANDLER: I was at a friend's house the other night. And my friend was saying - she's like, I just read "White Fragility." And she's like, and, you know, we were talking to somebody at the office. And this black woman worked at the office. And she was giving us feedback. And I just feel so terrible. Like, I just don't get it. I just - and she starts, like, really getting weepy. And I was, like, whoa, what are you doing right now? You just said you read "White Fragility." You cannot...

SANDERS: You can't cry.

HANDLER: ...Talk about reading "White Fragility" and start to cry.

SANDERS: But Chelsea Handler isn't getting everything right herself. Just last month, she shared a video on Instagram of Louis Farrakhan talking about race.

HANDLER: I was looking at this Louis Farrakhan video. And I just thought the message was so profound, that it was paramount...

SANDERS: Tell folks what the message was.

HANDLER: It was about racial justice. Black people don't have a history of violence. We've been violent against black people. That's what I took away from that. And I thought the message was paramount to the man. But I was wrong. The man is worse than the message.

SANDERS: Louis Farrakhan is known for his anti-Semitism. Immediately, Handler got flack for promoting his views. She later took the video down and apologized. But she's not giving up.

HANDLER: It's like that Michael Jordan documentary with Phil Jackson. Talking about Michael Jordan, how you can't just win once. You have to win again, and then you have to do it again.

SANDERS: Over and over and over again.

HANDLER: And you have to do it again.

SANDERS: Yes.

HANDLER: That's what you have to do with showing up for racial justice. You have to prove that you're an ally and build the trust.

SANDERS: Handler says she gets it. You may not trust someone like her on race just yet. But she says she'll stay in the game. Sam Sanders, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "PETER AND JACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.