Your knee-jerk reaction to Dave Chappelle’s new stand up is probably racist
Dave Chappelle is back ladies and gentlemen and thank god. I was raised on the Chappelle show, often repeating his jokes ad nauseum until my friends politely told me to shut the fuck up. I loved his combination of racial humor and candid insight. So of course I seized the opportunity to procrastinate my lesson plans when I saw his new special pop up on my Netflix page (seems I was destined to procrastinate that day). To be honest I was a little sus. Dave has been saying some sketchy shit lately, especially when it came to issues of politics and LGBTQ rights. But I decided that the man who will undoubtedly go down as one of the best (if not the best) comedians of all time should be given a fair chance.
And I hated it. After he did a long bit with a superhero raping people in order to save people, I felt Chappelle had fallen off the deep end. His humor around rape used to be thought provoking, uncovering unspoken secrets about how we feel about rape culture. But this joke just seemed to be hastily put together in an effort to capture some cheap shock laughs. He essentially talks about a superhero who needs to grab a woman’s vagina before having access to his powers. Since women don’t typically want the grabbing of their vaginas by random strangers, he decides to rape them whenever he needs his powers. In Dave’s words, “ he rapes, but he saves and he saves more than he rapes, but he rapes only to save.”
I stopped watching at that moment. I thought maybe old age has truly made Dave lose his magic touch. I should have just given him more time because by the end of his special, that superhero joke became the foundation for a hilarious and sobering insight about how minorities deal with the dethroning of their icons. Specifically,
WARNING IF YOU DO NOT WANT THE ENTIRE COMEDY SPECIAL RUINED I SUGGEST YOU STOP READING NOW
the end of the show cuts to Bill Cosby and how he raped several women. Chappelle talks about how conflicted he was as he had to accept that an icon he loved growing up, did this horrible thing. The rationale he gives in the end mirrors that of the superhero proposal (except for the only raping to save part). He points out all the contributions Cosby has made to the black community. At first I wanted to be angry, but then everything clicked.
The sketch itself wasn’t an absolution of Cosby, but instead a coming to terms session for Chappelle as a black comedian. The logic Chappelle uses to justify his statement isn’t affirmed in the sketch, but instead only supported by a racist white guy from Texas. Chappelle acknowledges the problematic nature of his point of view, but expresses why that point of view is so hard to ignore. Certainly one can say that Chappelle uses rape as a tool without any consideration for survivors. But Chappelle’s juxtaposition of race vs feminist issues makes it difficult to say that either side is the “true” oppressed group. In fact, the difficult balance is between acknowledging a survivor’s pain, while also acknowledging the trauma racism has brought into the African American community. I won’t say Chappelle fully respects the seriousness of rape. But he is not tossing it around for a cheap laugh.