Chappelle’s Crusade Against “Political Correctness” is counterproductive
“I didn’t come here to be right, I came to fuck around” — Dave Chappelle, The Bird Revelation
Dave Chappelle dropped two new comedy specials on Netflix recently, and they were….something.
Something is the only word I can come up with. I didn’t really feel anything after I watched them.
I’ve always loved Chappelle. His stand-up specials, his tv show, even his mediocre movie Half-Baked. He’s an icon. I was one of the many people upset by his sudden hiatus from entertainment. When I heard he was making a return, I was really hopeful he’d have the same magic he had before he left.
The Chappelle that returned from his long hiatus is still pretty funny, but he’s in a strange place in his new shows.
Nowadays he’s talking about his responsibilities as a comedian a lot. It feels almost like some type of behind-the-scenes special at times.
In The Bird Revelation, he says “ I didn’t come here to be right, I just came here to fuck around.”
This is a rather common theme in all of his post-hiatus specials. He complains often about “political correctness” and how “everything you say upsets somebody.” His implication is that society has become sensitive and “brittle” for finding offense…in often-offensive things. Essentially, Chappelle is saying he doesn’t want to be held accountable for his words, which raises the question:
Should comedians be held accountable for their words?
A lot of comedians critique different aspects of society and pair it with comedy, and Chappelle is no stranger to this himself. In his past two specials, he’s goes on long anecdotes about racism, with teaching his audience in mind.
For example, in The Bird Revelation, he tells the story of the lynching of Emmett Till, what it meant for America’s history, and what actions were taken moving forward for the country. This wasn’t something he told for laughs — he was legitimately attempting to use his words to spark something into his audience.
If Chappelle wishes to make a difference on how people view things racially in his stand-up, he’s contradicting his own words about coming here to “fuck around.”
Perhaps Chappelle doesn’t want to “fuck around.” By announcing he’s here to “fuck around,” he’s communicating to his audience that none of his words are to be taken seriously. This applies to positives like his long anecdotes about race, and the negatives that he doesn’t want to be held accountable for.
And speaking of negatives, there were negatives in his specials.
One negative that stood out to me was Chappelle’s complete ignorance about trans issues. In fact, he used his identity as a black man to play a form of oppression olympics of sorts:
My problem has always been with the dialogue about transgender people. I just feel like these things should not be discussed in front of the blacks. It’s fucking insulting, all this talk about how these people feel inside. Since when has America given a fuck how any of us feel inside? — Dave Chappelle, EQUANIMITY
The suggestion Chappelle makes with these comparisons between trans people and black people is that black people have it so much harder than trans people — who in Chappelle’s world, — are accepted. The same people that had to face a political climate that made a big fuss about whether they can use public bathrooms. The same people that face an insanely high suicide-attempt rate. The same people that face a murder rate 4.3 times higher than the regular rate. Here’s the kicker: 3 out of 4 of those people in that murder rate are BLACK trans people. Black trans people are the biggest victims in this whole thing, but Chappelle talks about being trans and blackness as if they have are mutually exclusive.
I share these facts and contrast them to Chappelle’s statement as criticism. I don’t think Chappelle’s statement is going to cause murders or suicides. But I do not think he’s going to help prevent them either. Chappelle has a lot of influence and his aggressive apathy towards trans issues may reinforce it into others or drift people on the fence to the wrong side. Statements like his help wash away and silence stories of trans injustice that need to be told. Stories of black injustice are too silenced and washed away, but that doesn’t mean we have to do the same to other stories. Especially when in the case of trans murders — 3 out of 4 of them are our stories too!
Chappelle often makes a really detailed and complex analysis of race in these specials, but a really simplistic and shallow view outside of race. His comments about the victims of the Louis CK’s creepy ass behavior was a longer version of Tyler The Creator’s infamous cyberbullying tweet. While just saying “walk away” sounds like a good solution, it doesn’t calculate the complexities of power dynamics, accumulated stress women receive from multiple instances of sexual harassment, or the plain shock of a guy whipping his dick out when you don’t expect it. I mean damn nigga, who has a “in case Louis CK whips his dick out” section of their brain to make a quick and calculated response to that situation?
And again, this is criticism. It’s not a call for a boycott or any type of censorship. It’s just what I noticed. And that’s the wild thing about people’s tirades against “political correctness.” If someone criticizes you on something they deem “problematic,” what are you losing, exactly? You’re not going to jail or getting fined. Many of these people don’t have any power over you.
“Political correctness” is a phantom enemy invented by the right. It’s a ploy to dissuade people from challenging the status quo. When the status quo of society is black folks having a hard time, you’re black, and playing along with the right’s game, you’re playing yourself, both politically and artistically.
Society isn’t much “different” now. People always were upset about things. We’re just in a new era of communication. There were no comment sections. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to complain. Now that previously unheard people have these new mediums to communicate and collaborate on ideas, we are emboldened and attempting to carve a culture that can safely call these issues out — not unlike how the chain of outing abusers in Hollywood started.
In order to improve society and its culture, we’re going to have to recognize its problems and criticize it. Stand-up comedy is a part of our culture. If you find critique to be a form of censorship, you might be delusional, or even worse…a little too sensitive.