Opinion: Dave Chappelle’s brilliance doesn’t excuse this
Comedian Dave Chappelle remains one of the funniest people alive. But he has a well-established problem when it comes to not standing firmly against hate, and on Saturday night he displayed it again live.
As per modern “Saturday Night Live” tradition, Chappelle hosted the show after the recent elections. But instead of focusing on the midterms, he devoted much of his commentary to the recent spate of antisemitic comments from Kanye West and Kyrie Irving. At first, it seemed like he might actually condemn the very hateful things they said. But instead, in what has now sadly also become modern Chappelle tradition, he pivoted halfway through to blame the targeted minority group for being offended, and to explain how the Black community is the real victim here.
First, when it came to West, Chappelle actually reinforced the antisemitic ideas West had blasted (and others then signal-boosted in their defense of him). Chappelle explained why it is ok to think antisemitic thoughts (like Jews control Hollywood), but that you just cannot say them out loud in this climate. When he got to Irving, Chappelle expressed real surprise that the NBA All-Star had gotten in trouble for endorsing “some movie” that had “apparently, I don’t know, some antisemitic tropes or something.”
Chappelle noted that Irving was “slow to apologize” but said the NBA’s “list of demands to get back in their good graces got longer and longer and this is where I draw the line.” And this is where Chappelle went off the rails. He concluded his bit on Irving by telling a national audience, “I know that Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world, but you can’t blame that on Black Americans, you just can’t.”
First to set the record straight since Chappelle obviously did not see the movie or read the book of the same title. The film Irving endorsed to his millions of followers does not have some “antisemitic tropes” as Chappelle and others have said in efforts to downplay it. The film centers around the types of lies that have throughout history led directly to discrimination and anti-Jewish violence.
Among other things, the film accuses Jews of orchestrating a global conspiracy and denies the history of the Holocaust. Six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were tortured and murdered in cold blood — along with an untold number of Black victims — but Irving publicly promoted (and then defended) a “documentary” that claims the Holocaust never happened, and that Jews made it up “to conceal their nature and protect their status and power.” That, Dave, is why Kyrie Irving got in trouble.
Second, the list of things Irving now has to do could be completed — by a willing participant — in a matter of hours, not days. He has to attend some meetings, go through sensitivity training and fulfill his previous voluntary promise to donate to some positive causes instead of paying the typical (but less productive) NBA fine. Not one thing on the list was excessive, or even out of the ordinary as compared to the NBA’s historic protocols for dealing with these types of situations.
No one was blaming Black Americans. They were standing against the hateful things that Irving and West actually said and did.
It is right and proper to be angry when people are openly antisemitic — even when those people happen to be Black. That does not in any way mean anyone inside or outside the Jewish community who are angry at Irving and West are somehow anti or blaming Black Americans as a group. Setting up that false dichotomy (you are either with every Black person always, even when they are antisemitic, or else you are against all Black Americans) is not only wrong it is also both dangerous and stupid. It is dangerous because it continues feeding the fires of baseless hate, and it is stupid because it needlessly alienates natural and long-time allies from each other.
Chappelle appears to have a zero-sum understanding of persecution and discrimination. In previous specials, he railed against the LGBTQ community because he felt like the world cared more about them than about Black people. He said things like, “Gay people are minorities until they need to be White again.”
The truth, however, is that it is possible for more than one group to be oppressed, and that standing up for one group when they need it does not take away or disadvantage any other group. You can be against homophobia and against antisemitism and against racism all at the same time, without in any way cheapening any one of them. Not everything is only black and white.
It is also true that Chappelle seems to lack nuance when it comes to Jews and race. Just like there are Black members of the LGBTQ community, there are also many Jews of color, and Jewish people of all complexions have been consistently othered in insidious ways. For example, in America, Jews were considered non-White at times when Whites were being privileged, and today they are often told (by people like Chappelle) that they are just privileged Whites when they demand recognition of their struggles.
The proper response is always to call out oppression in all contexts, not to repeatedly try and reframe every conversation as a secret referendum on race. Chappelle is a brilliant man with an important voice. He can and should do better.
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