I criticized Dave Chappelle and his fans questioned my blackness

It might have been the GIF of a chattering raccoon.

Or the cropped photo of me standing with a student and a teacher after speaking at a high school and claiming I’d confessed my love for the “ugliest white woman.” [I] could find.” Or the message that I “need to make my white wife happy” even though my marriage ended in 2015.

This news delivered to my virtual doorstep via Twitter after I dared to write a column criticizing recent Dave Chappelle comics Saturday night live Monologue, were part of a punitive spate of responses on social media aimed at attacking me as a black man. According to these diatribes, I was a traitor to my race, a cookie-eating sellout, a moron, Uncle Tom/Sambo who allowed his Jewish paymasters to dictate his writing.

Anything for having the gall to say I was disappointed with Chappelle’s last performance.

Of course, it’s difficult to say which of these accounts might have been bots or malicious hackers more interested in sowing division and hatred than any logical argument. But some of the arguments made in those rooms nonetheless reflected justifications and defenses I had seen real people make — and inadvertently embodied my concerns about Chappelle’s original comments, which encouraged those who believed terrible stereotypes about Jews.

And as always, it was disheartening that we seem to be having the same discussions about stereotyping and fairness that seemed resolved years ago – rekindled by an actor whose offbeat and provocative comedy touches nerves without really offering a solution.

A brilliant standup comic

Chappelle’s superpower as a performer – something he’s boasted about in the past – is his ability to control an audience, bringing laughter when he chooses, and stunned silence at other moments. Indeed, his SNL monologue is a master class at saying just enough for fans to defend his words while sidestepping their more provocative implications.

The question—at least for me—was whether Chappelle was downplaying and tacitly covering up the anti-Semitic actions of Kanye West and Kyrie Irving. Chappelle dances around the subject in his monologue, noting how many Jewish people work in Hollywood, and then says, “You could go to Hollywood, you could start connecting any lines, and you could maybe take on the illusion that the Jews do show business.” The use of the word “delusion” in this sentence sounds appropriate.

But the next moment he says: “It’s not crazy to think. But it’s crazy to say it out loud in a climate like this.” Which begs the question: when will there ever be a good climate to revive the old prejudice that Jewish people conspire to run large institutions in lockstep – a prejudice that has been used to fuel all forms of oppression, including the Holocaust justify?

Fans online insisted I wasn’t being fair, noting that Chappelle also joked, “There are a lot of black people in Ferguson, Missouri. It doesn’t mean we run the place.” But I also paid attention to his very last joke, in which he noted how difficult it is to talk about controversial topics and slyly added, “I hope they’re not taking anything away from me . Whoever they are.”

Given that there was only one group of people he’d talked about who might or might not be in show business, it was hard to imagine Chappelle’s “they” referring to anyone else.

The monologue drew criticism from Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that Chappelle had normalized and popularized antisemitism, asking, “Why does our trauma elicit applause?” That’s a good question; Either way, Chappelle drew an audience and pulled in the biggest ratings of the season at almost 5 million viewers.

But Chappelle also has a well-known defender: Ex Daily show Host and longtime friend Jon Stewart. Published by Stephen Colbert The Late ShowStewart, who often jokes about his own Jewish heritage, balked at the idea of ​​Chappelle normalizing anti-Semitism and appeared to criticize efforts aimed at marginalizing West and Irving.

“I don’t think censorship and penalties are the way to end antisemitism or gain understanding,” he said. Stewart later added, “Punishing someone for having a thought — I don’t think that’s the way to change their mind or gain understanding.”

Defenses that miss the target

Following my column, some classic defenses emerged.

He’s a comedian, not a journalist, some have said (which I noted in my column). But those of us who have been doing this for a while know that humor rooted in unfair and inaccurate stereotypes can become ideas that affect the people who are the subject of them. Prejudices are very hard to live with.

Some fans insisted that observing how many Jews work in show business was just a fact. But of course, the point of such observations is often to provide evidence for a darker conclusion: that Jews control show business to make it a dangerous taboo for others to criticize them.

The odd thing about this perspective is that I’ve heard similar sentiments from some white people who feel there are taboos when it comes to discussing how black people talk about racism.

In my 2012 book race baiterI am describing a comment by former Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly, who accused civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters – and, ahem, me – of creating a climate in which accusations of racism “repeated millions of white people mean Americans won’t even think about discussing race with black people anymore.” He called me “one of the biggest race lures in the country.” Talk about creating a climate for constructive dialogue.

The fact is that our modern media culture of argumentation doesn’t leave much room for nuanced discussions. To bring the problem back to Chappelle, however, I found my comments fairly measured.

I didn’t call him an anti-Semite. I didn’t even say he wasn’t funny. I have accused him of covering up “a problem that should be cut and dried”. And for that, one fan insisted I “spit poison,” another accused me of “attacking another black person,” and a third insisted I have “black skin and a white mind.”

(There were also a few posters that seemed to be using my column to label all or most black people as anti-Semites—another perversion of my words to serve a horrible prejudice.)

The hypocrisy is amazing. Chappelle himself said, “It shouldn’t be so scary to talk about anything.” But some who claim to be his fans are determined to make anyone scary to disagree with him. Because anyone who dares to go there doesn’t have to be black enough.

This idea can be so ubiquitous that the last time I wrote a big critical column about Chappelle, Bill Maher commented on it with a joke on his HBO show realtime This convinced me that he thought a white person wrote my words. (Maher spoke of a “kink” he suspected some white people had in wanting to criticize themselves, which he called “white loathing.”)

Needless to say, I disagree. Black people, we know that when bigotry rears its ugly head, the last thing we need in public space is ambiguity and two-sidedness.

As police brutality against black people escalates, we must say unequivocally that Black Lives Matter is. And when anti-Semitism emerges, even from some of the most well-known black artists in music and sports, we should denounce it unreservedly.

Of course, there are tensions between blacks and Jews over access to white privilege, differences in oppression, and a host of other issues. There is legitimate anger among black people when some people use white privilege to escape the oppression we face. But as I pointed out in my column on Chappelle last year; Just because some members of a group use their privileges in horrible ways doesn’t give them the green light to spread unfair prejudice against everyone in that group.

These tensions are best resolved in an environment that unequivocally rejects false assumptions and prejudices on all sides. And insisting on this is not a betrayal of anyone’s race – it is simply what we should expect in a free and fair society.

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