I just saw Dave Chappelle’s new shows. Now, I think Dave is great. He takes on race and society in transgressive and effective ways. As a White person who tries to be an ally to People of Color, there are way worse people I could be paying attention to.
But Dave, seriously? Suppose I were a highly regarded comedian, someone whose return to public life was highly anticipated. Suppose further that I had carved out an identity specifically as a Queer comedian, someone who straight people would be advised to listen to because I was able to make them laugh and be uncomfortable at the same time.
Now suppose that in the first half of my comeback concert, I decided to spend ten minutes or so talking about Black people, trying to get some laughs out of my saying “I really don’t understand Black people.” Suppose that in the course of this, I used some words that are not slurs being widely reclaimed but words that are still pretty much slurs wherever you go, words that might be accepted by a small minority of Black people but only if used by members of the community. If I played on old, tired, hackneyed stereotypes. If I, a White person, tried to get laughs from a routine about, say, watermelon and fried chicken.
I think you’d be pretty pissed. At the very least, you’d shake your head and say “That wasn’t really funny, man.”
Now, when you’re watching the second half of the Fliponymous Comeback Concert, I do it again, only this time…
This time it includes a speech about how I am an Ally to People of Color, and I hate it when Black Bloggers tell me I’m not doing it right. That I can use whatever language I want, in any context I want, because I’m on your side, even though I don’t understand it. I mean, I have a Black friend I gave concert tickets to! Because somewhere I’ve acquired the title of Honorary Black Guy, it’s not a problem if I decide to deliver a couple of sentences in AAVE to get a cheap laugh — an AAVE that isn’t respected, but mocked.
Dave. Ally is a verb. It’s what you do. It’s not a title that you get to wear because of some good things you have done. It does not excuse you from any and all criticism.
All we ever ask of our allies is to stand up when they see injustice, treat us with the same respect they feel they are due themselves, and be willing to listen when they step wrong.
Next time, please think about this. Think about how you would feel if one of the most highly regarded Queer comedians decided that it was appropriate to be just plain ignorant about race. And then apply that standard to yourself.
INEVITABLE POSTSCRIPT ONE: Dude, chillax, it’s just comedy. If Dave Chappelle isn’t pissing anyone off, he’s not doing his job.
Here’s the thing. I’m not angry. I am disappoint. And there’s this thing about comedy. Great comedy disturbs, makes you think while you laugh. The callback about Cosby and the superhero? Brilliant, and I believe something only a Dave Chapelle could do. The bits about how “WTF is the Q?” Not funny in *anyone’s* mouth.
INEVITABLE POSTSCRIPT TWO: Why do you keep picking on allies?
If you think this is picking on allies, you haven’t been listening to what the community you claim to be an ally to is saying. And that’s actually what we need you to do.