Dave Chappelle can be described as a polarizing figure. He is funny, he is very intelligent, and he has a sense of humor that has resonated with diverse audiences. I am generally a fan, but I was sincerely disappointed — and later, pissed — after watching part one of his new Netflix special. I should preface this by saying I was not only pissed off by the content, but I was also pissed because as a freelancer, I barely get the opportunity to watch TV! This show reinforced archaic sexist values and seemed to be nostalgic for a time when women could be silent big booty hoes, ready to please a man at his whim.
The first strike was a joke about Asian men and their emasculation. At first, I thought he was just trying to make commentary on the fact that we have bombed Japan twice and talk more our tense relations with the East. He attempts to save this comment by saying his wife is Filipina. And in bringing his wife’s ethnicity, he starts to make some valid commentary on the economic state of the Philippines. He makes a few jokes about OJ Simpson, and then he starts to set the audience up for his big joke, about Bill Cosby.
He tries to set the audience up to feel comfortable with a rape joke, but then you realize his routine is a rape joke. He defends himself by claiming to be a feminist, and exclaims that “he knows women suffer.” He even makes an analogy of pitching a movie about a superhero who can only gain his powers by touching women’s vaginas. Women say no, so the superhero rapes them. Finally, the big revelation comes through. The punchline is that Bill Cosby did wonderful things for television, brought in professional psychologists to be sure there was never a negative representation of black bodies on his shows, and allegedly even bought the microphone for Martin Luther King Jr. But he raped 54 women — and so Bill Cosby is a superhero, but he rapes.
Ha ha ha — good night —
How is this okay? And how are reviewers like Esquire's Matt Miller saying things like “it might take a little bit of grit to get through his stand-up special. But it's worth it"?
I understand that Dave Chappelle says that Cosby was his hero growing up, but instead of victim-blaming and trying to make us OK with Cosby’s body of work in spite of his atrocities, what he should be is pissed off at Bill Cosby. What is worst is that Chappelle tries to bring the suffering game into play. In one of the bits of the special, Chappelle says that women have not suffered as much as black men, referring to white women having more privilege than black men — and to that, I say Chappelle should check his privilege.
Rape has not only plagued white women but is an issue which has plagued us all. Black and brown women have been the victims of misogyny and systemic racism for centuries; the result of which is sadly many time our rape. We have a history of over-sexualizing, dehumanizing, and objectifying women of color. And what is worse because we have so many issues with race within our country when women of color face sexual assault, and discrimination from those within their race, it’s hard to come forward because many women are afraid of hurting the larger cause. Or worse, they feel their stories will not be heard.
Sienna McLean shows an excellent example of this in the documentary Still Revolutionaries. In this historical documentary, former members of the Black Panther Party, Katherine Campbell, and Madalynn Carol Rucker discuss the treatment they received while being a part of the party. Some Panther women were harassed and often coerced into “having sex on demand,” arguing it was their duty to abide as revolutionary sisters.
Or take the horrifying R. Kelly rape case. Kelly not only raped underage women, there is video evidence of the rape, and yet he came out of the case scot-free, and the young women had to live with that.
Chappelle used Cosby victims as a platform to tell a joke defending Cosby’s legacy. Instead of using humor to defend him, Chappelle should be furious at Cosby not disappointed. Put it this way if it were discovered that Cosby killed 54 black men we would all be outraged, the same should apply to rape. Cosby was not a serial killer he was a serial rapist. Should we defend the hundreds of priests who raped and molested thousands of Children because they were some of those kids heroes? No!
If Chappelle really wants to be a feminist he should read some bell hooks, and Angela Davis, or the book Women of Color and Feminism by Dr. Maythee Rojas. It might help him understand that rape is a sensitive subject for all women.
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Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa