Social Media gave us #BlackLivesMatter, the OG #MeToo movement, #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackBoyJoy, #BlackWomanMagic, and #BlackManMagic (okay, maybe I made that one up, but it should definitely be a thing too). The point is, social media has been almost quintessential in modern day grassroots activism. So, why do I deem it a love/hate relationship between the Black community and social media? Tagging “hate” onto there implies that there must be a dark side to social media activism and I believe there is. Using my former examples, I will demonstrate its dark side.
#BlackLivesMatter was easily gentrified to say "AllLivesMatter." Yes, you salt-guzzling, Trump supporting, tone deaf bozos. Of course, all lives matter. However, Black lives were foregrounded because it’s black lives that are being taken at an alarming rate. We don’t just mean the mass murders by cops; we also mean the PTSD and other post-slavery scars we are still dealing with to this day. The same goes for #MeToo which was white washed as well. Like classic white feminism, the attention was taken from a Black Woman to put a white woman front and center. It’s not reverse racism or internalized misogyny; it’s the truth.
This brings me to my point of focus: Dave Chappelle. Before I made a judgment about what he said, I wanted to know what he said, not interpretations of what he said. That’s just logical (at least for me). First and foremost, I do believe we need to be sensitive to offensive speech and guard ourselves and our platforms against bigotry. Nonetheless, I don’t think that Chappelle was transphobic. As a person who is not a member of the trans community, I have no authority to say what is or is not offensive to that community, hence why I say “I don’t think Chappelle was transphobic” as opposed to saying “Chapelle wasn’t transphobic.” The distinction matters.
We are in a different era now and we are becoming more careful with the things we say, amid backlash. Chapelle also made jokes about sexual assault that I’m sure some didn’t find funny either, but as a survivor, I wasn’t offended. Comedy should reflect reality and I believe Chappelle is doing that. He touched on a good point that, sometimes, superficial characteristics conflate our idea on who "looks" like a rapist; at times, society at large is so flawed it believes beautiful people, Brad Pitt in Chappelle's example, are exempt from having major characters flaws, such as being a rapist. I do see how this can be misconstrued and come off as offensive, though.
Many women are letting predators know that #TimeIsUp, so we are extremely sensitive on the issue of sexual assault. Rape jokes are never acceptable no matter the context. However, Chappelle wasn't making a joke endorsing rape. He was highlighting the way this abuse culture is implicitly endorsed. Chappelle used the example of Brad Pitt and Harvey Weinstein to show how society is so flawed it might conflate something as superficial as looks for the justifcation on why someone "couldn't" do something or why someone "should" be forgiven because they are more attractive - kind of like how Kodak is easily cancelled, but Chris Brown is given multiple chances at redemption. It's not always about looks either.
Status can too play a role. Harvey Weinstein was in a high-end industry position, so it's understandable why women and men were afraid to come forward; he possibly had a pulse on their jobs. These complicit endorsements allow rape culture to continue. Nonetheless, I do not think that Chappelle misunderstands that point. I think he understands that point very well. If we hold a mirror to Chappelle, we should hold the same mirror to every comedian, regardless of race or gender. As soon as I searched Dave Chappelle’s name on Google, I saw several click-baiting headlines ascribing labels to him before I had even started reading. This fear mongering tactic had nearly tarnished Chappelle's reputation before I even pressed "play."
It’s an unfortunate con of the cancel culture. Some deserve to be cancelled (for example: 45), while others can miss the mark and we shouldn’t ruin their careers for that (unless they continue to "miss the mark" and beg forgiveness). Chappelle addressed a fan in the above letter. Although he did not back slide on what he felt was a truth, Chappelle acknowledges that someone else was hurt by his material. He welcomed the critique and did not say the fan was being overly sensitive, which would have been cause for cancellation and an inspection into possible transphobia (at least for me).
As we as a society move toward healing, I think dialogue like this is important. I agree that comedians use material from every branch of society, but sometimes they can take it too far. Personally, I was turned off at my homecoming comedy show a few years ago when the comedian kept trashing the mothers of his children and bragging about how many kids he had by different women; I didn’t find that funny. More recently, Lil Duval, the corniest comedian out there, made unsurprisingly misogynistic comments about Ciara (he's good for projecting his unresolved issues with women onto us when we did not ask for his "comedy").
The radical womanist in me wants to be reactionary and deem Lil Hurt Duval a bleeding misogynist who deserves to be cancelled forevermore because his message is explicitly negative and harmful to women. Then, he has spread this hateful message on numerous occasions. All that said, I think the criticism of Dave Chappelle brings up some insightful ideas. We should not become less sensitive (thereby recreating the conditions that caused us to become so sensitive in the first place), but we should be open to having conversations before we rush to put labels on people.
Childish Gambino addressed this on Atlanta. Some are quick to generalize the entire black community as homophobic or transphobic. Yes, there are some who are hateful and deserve to be called out, while there are others of us just trying to understand and this need for understanding the trans community does not rest solely on Black people; it's on society at large. As the trans community creates their own scholarship, we can use moments like these as teachable ones.
The "Rebellious Woman" blog is a periodic scoop on hair, love, race, politics, and everything in between. Stay tuned for reflections the life of a rebel with a cause!