On Chappell Shite
So I have been asked to say something about the Dave Chapelle shit several times, now.
I have to start by noting that DC is someone who is often startled by his own success. He is a Black man who is being funny, and his jokes have a very specific audience and a very specific thrust and a very key thing about them.
This thing about his success is always there, and it does have an impact on the reaction of my other communities to his final straw act in his most recent special on Netflix.
I will be direct: the only real nuance in criticism I have seen comes from Black people — Black people who have to deal with a lot more shit that I do, because like him they are darker skinned.
His routines are intended to speak to a particular way of seeing the world, a way that arises for him from having lived in the state of hostility that he deals with daily in the US as a Black Man, and the thing is, he has always been surprised by how popular he is among folks who are not Black. Always.
He doesn’t care about the criticism for a couple reasons — one, he got 24 million dollars for it and managed to get two people fired. Two, a lot of the criticism comes from people who are not Black, and he doesn’t care about it.
The only time he has ever responded and acted in response to criticism was that by Black people. He looks very closely at where those Black people come from — not in the sense of of a location, but in the sense of a background.
Because that is where he starts. Then he begins to build more layers and his goal is to show folks who are not just Black men how things are for Black men.
That is Dave Chapelle’s entire thing. That is his whole deal. When his work began to shift away from that, he walked out of a show and damned the contracts and damned the press, because he felt he lost his way, and that he had been shifted away by his success.
One must acknowledge that, and one needs to acknowledge that there are a lot of folks who are invested in the consistent dehumanization of LGBTQ people within the Black community and they benefit from it and I do not mean just the pale folks or just faceless corporations (which, btw, are indeed pale folks as well). It doesn’t matter that these forces derive a lot of that from the persistent folks who also ensure Racism divides us, and sexism divides us, and the rest of it.
Because part of what the art he is being paid to do is about is all of that. Just not from a someone who studied it in a school or who had mentors or who did the things we think of as enabling people to speak to those issues more clearly, with the right buzzwords and all that.
That is where he comes from, and what he is trying to do.
He doesn’t give a flying fuck about LGBTQ people. He isn’t even all that fond of women, or other PoC, or any of the rest.
If he did, he wouldn’t be using them. Simple enough. In his world, all of those things conspire to make the world more difficult for Black Men, and he sees the entire effort of struggling for human rights as a zero sum game or a competition and that viewpoint is alive and well among his target audience and he is a business.
A successful, 24 million dollars for one special business. A business backed by a multi-billion dollar company that wants the most eyeballs on the most expensive things and doesn’t give a flying fuck about the reality of lived experience for Black Trans Men or Black Women or Black Trans Women or mixed Trans WOmen or Non-binary folks or, well, anyone who doesn’t like his shit.
And keep in mind that I say his work is shit, that I have never found it all that funny, and that I am about as opposite him as one can get and still be Black — but I understand what it means to be a Black Man in America and to try and get along in it.
I am just better informed than he is, and much worse paid.
Now, note as well that his viewership numbers are not just Black Men in the US. He himself does — it is non-college educated people that love him the most. As people are seeing, it is not just “conservative” ones, and not just “liberal” ones. It isn’t young or old, because he has good penetration there (though the money is always on the 18 to 34 grouping. Always. Over 34? Well, you kinda count until you reach 54, and then no one gives a fuck about you. Sorry, I didn’t make the rules, that was 40 year old 6F guys.)
His style of comedy, loosely allowed, is intended to speak to people who hear that and recognize that and understand that this is a common truth they share among themselves.
A base of “this sucks”. Now, I could point out that part of that is the persistent stripping of all wealth from folks in this very broad demographic segment, the destruction of traditional forms of social power, the end of the union memberships and the decline of the middle class and blah blah fucking blah.
Why, though? No one wants to talk about that.
They want to talk about how he shat all over trans people and gay people — and they in turn walked right into the trap he set up that asserts that they have all the power and they can get people fired and so that gave Sarandon the excuse he needed to stand up be the fucking twit he usually is.
One person barged into a meeting and threw a fit. Fired.
Another person leaked the amount they paid for the special. Fired.
Walkouts are planned, there is a boycott warming up (that, honestly, um, yeah, good luck. Aim for a specific amount of time — a month of no netflix, here is how to suspend your account, etc because wow, folks like me are lazy as shit), people are protesting outside the office, and now DC looks like he has some kind of magical power that matches what those folks are already being told by people we know are in it to be evil and fascist.
He stole JKR’s entire line and thunder. I mean, how dare a filthy rich 6F lady be treated as badly as a rich Black Man. He just walked up and took what she said and made it his.
Then he claimed the rest of what was said about her.
And so now if he goes down he proves to those folks who are out there that we are a powerful capitalist force and that we have nearly no rights and are constantly being murdered in always gruesome ways in an ever increasing number of times and the level of violence against us is never merely on the basis of just our attacker but all those who supposedly come to our aid, including cops and emergency services and court systems and more.
Because he needs to meet a bunch of Black Trans Gay Men and find out what it means to be them, since those are pretty much The only people that he or Sarandon might listen to.
After they convince him that they are men.
Personally, would love to put him in the room with Kylar and his handpicked crew of four others and watch that happen as a fly on the wall.
But what really is key here is that he did cause real harm. Because he helped tens of thousands of people decide that they could get off the fence. He is providing cover for hundreds of small government officials and candidates to do shit like in Texas, where they are making a law just to tell some kids that they cannot play sports like all the other kids.
Just like they did to his target audience, which sees it as just.
Because it happened to them. Or is happening to them.
In their minds.
That is the real problem with what DC has done. Over and over and over again.
He is actively trying to pretend that all these others — these trans folk, these gay folk, these women, these AAPI, these Indigenous people are all johnny come latelies who have more power than Black people in the US, and he wants people to think that, because he wants to see changes for Black people like he has seen for all those other groups.
And that is pure fucking bullshit, and he is too damned ignorant and unethical to see it.
He is playing oppression olympics because a nonbinary pale actor came out and gets to keep playing a role in a show. Because a “really hot and sexy” Black woman R&B singer is coming out and she isn’t a she anymore she’s a dude and he is insecure enough to think “wow, how did dudes get so hot and how gay does that make me?”
Because he doesn’t get it. This is where Dave Chapelle, millionaire, is emotionally and mentally — he’s afraid of all these groups that to his mind are tearing away at what he thinks makes him special.
And bad news — we are.
But all the folks who loved his special and are defending him right now think the same way.
And that is a crime for which there is no consequence beyond never, ever being put on the same level as the 6F comics he has said he idolizes — or even on the same level as Eddie Murphy, who paved the way for him.
I think Hannah Gadsby nailed it, myself.
He just helped to make sure that more Black folks died.
And he should be smarter than that.