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A Few Corrective Notes For Dave Chappelle And His ‘Closer’ Special

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Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity’s.

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Dear Dave,

For brevity’s sake, let me introduce myself in the broadest of terms: I’m a Black LGBTQ+ man, writer and musician. I first “met” you as Reggie Warrington in Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor, and again as Tulley in Martin Lawrence’s Blue Streak. I saw even more of you through your intelligent and irreverent critique of systemic conditions in Chappelle’s Show. I’ve been a fan. As of late, though, my appreciation of you is not without complexity.

You work less often these days, and while your rare comedy specials earn accolades, you spark a consistent tone of discord with LGBTQ+ people. Your recent special, The Closer, set that tone to a jet engine roar. As a Black man who grew up understanding your comedic style and an LGBTQ+ man who understands how “they” feel, I hope you’ll hear me out.

You began addressing the LGBTQ+ community vis-à-vis Da Baby, whose vile homophobia earned backlash. You said, “the kid made a very egregious mistake.” Accountability doesn’t include minimization. He’s 29 years old — old enough to know his views are contentious. You posited that Da Baby faced less punishment for killing a man than for offending the LGBTQ+ community: “In our country, you can shoot and kill a n***a, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.” This glaring false equivalency is factually untrue.

On November 5, 2018, Da Baby shot and killed a man in Walmart. There was no backlash because he was arrested and tried, and charges were dropped since he acted in self-defense. It didn’t get national attention because, in 2018, he was a barely known under the radar rapper. Conversely, by 2021, he was at the peak of his success; naturally, his bigoted views would attract national attention and intense consequence. Your false equivalency doesn’t stand.

Yet, you used it to suggest disparity, by saying “a gay person can be racist,” “gay people are minorities until they need to be white again,” and falsely suggesting that the “LGBTQ movement” has somehow surpassed or usurped the Black rights movement. These statements are the crux of your “issue with (the LGBTQ+) community.” But gay people are not monolithically white. There are Black and POC gay people. You know this and joke about it later. So why bulldoze past that intersectionality?

Further, the Black Lives Matter movement has dominated the national stage, and in 2020 alone, after the murder of George Floyd, Black people rose up — in the middle of a global pandemic — to demand justice. You’re minimizing the work that Black activists do everyday and your false narratives give homophobes a red herring cause to use as legitimacy for their hate.

You said you’re not a fan of the “sensitive and brittle newer gays.” You missed the “old school gays, the Stonewall gays,” who could take a joke. Have you watched The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (on Netflix, like your special), detailing the life of gay and trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, a “Stonewall gay” who spent most of her life living on the streets, being harassed and chased down by police, racists and, at times, her own people who “othered” her because of homophobia?

After helping lead the Stonewall Riots, she ultimately lived a sad life and died floating in the Hudson River with a wound to the back of her head. Unconcerned, police dismissed it as a suicide. Many of the other “Stonewall, old school gays” lived similar, painful lives. They took the homophobic jokes because it was better than dealing with violence. If a racist said, “I miss those old school Blacks, the slave Blacks, who could take a joke,” how would you respond? See the parallels?

Speaking of trans people, you said, you’re “very interested in the gender construct personally because I’m a man with kids and a wife.” Why does that matter, unless you’d only consider a gender construct that centers straightness? You stand for transphobic disgraced writer J.K. Rowling, reiterating “gender is a fact.” False.

There’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the traits that determine reproductive function: male, female and intersex. Gender is the human-made construct and characteristics that differentiate femininity and masculinity: man, woman or any such combination thereof. Sex is a fact. Gender is not. As early as 1955, John Money taught this, and the World Health Organization agrees. Trans women don’t claim to be biologically female (sex); they are women (gender).

Interestingly, you seem to exclusively have an issue with trans women. Trans men don’t bother you, and you even joked about how you’d be comfortable around them. You’re OK with people born female who identify as men, are masculine or lesbian, perhaps because you still disrespectfully view them as women you can approach. Yet, people born male who identify as women or feminine trigger you. Process that, because it sounds like the sexist misogyny and toxic masculinity at the core of most homophobia.

You suggested viewing trans people as Black people view Blackface; another false equivalency. Blackface is an intentionally offensive depiction of Black people by racists who hate them for hateful entertainment. Trans people aren’t doing depictions of false/offensive stereotypes for hateful amusement. Science shows their brains are more similar to the gender they identify as, and they are attempting to make their body and outward expression match that.

You based the core of your resistance to changing on your friendship with Daphne, a trans woman who laughed at all your jokes, including the transphobic ones. She ultimately committed suicide after being called out for defending you when you made her your public token.

Yet, Daphne didn’t speak for the entire trans community. Using her as a token by which to dismiss the feelings of the millions of other trans people who are harmed by your rhetoric is problematic. It feels like the racists who say “I have a Black friend” then spout prejudice.

Daphne said, “I don’t need you to understand me, I just need you to believe that I’m having a human experience.” You believed her “because she didn’t say anything about pronouns.”

If you truly wish to understand her human experience, you need to learn about pronouns, because that’s at the core of her human experience.

You claimed you aren’t “punching down” because punching down requires you to “think less of someone.” Yet, you are thinking less of trans people if you claim to hear them, then invalidate their human experience because it contradicts yours.

You ended your special by saying you won’t speak again about trans people, as long as they stop punching down on your community. Again, Black and POC trans people exist. The communities are not mutually exclusive, they oft intersect.

Instead of resting on the applause from (A) the straight people in your audience who are likely complicit in/informed by homophobia, or (B) the one trans person who adored you and saw you as a career door-opener, start listening to the trans people who have been telling you for years how you’re hurting them. It’s not “talking points from an article” — they say the same thing because they feel the same way. You left Chappelle’s Show because you felt people were laughing at you and not with you. Look at how your rhetoric impacts trans people. See the parallels?

At the end of your special, you said empathy isn’t gay or Black, it’s bisexual. I’ll take it one step further: empathy is unconditional.

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