Jay-Z performed twice, and when he performed “Bam” (with Damian Marley, who is also featured on the track on the album 4:44), he wore a football jersey, suggesting no team, that said “COLIN K” on the back and carried Colin Kaepernick’s “7” on the front. Jay-Z’s choice to align himself with Kaepernick and his — and other players’ — protests against police violence felt weighty in a way that Baldwin’s face-pulling rarely does.
That’s not to say that all the comedy parts of the show had no weight. During Weekend Update, co-anchor Michael Che spoke directly to the president, mocking his response to Puerto Rico, saying, “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.”
Most of what felt most current wasn’t Saturday Night Live’s signature sketch material. Jay-Z was Jay-Z; the Che stuff could have been stand-up. But there is a thread that joins Kaepernick and Jay-Z and Michael Che here, which is that athletes and musicians and comics continue to demonstrate the fact that audiences are not entitled to expect there to be a kind of generic, apolitical blackness that separates itself from the real world. Or, as it was recently said on BuzzFeed, “Black Athletes Are Black People, And Black People Are Dying.”