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You’re laughing, but should you be?

By Austin Riffelmacher

Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special “The Closer” has come under scrutiny for comments about the LGBTQIA+ community.

Activists have called the comments transphobic and have demanded Netflix cut ties with the comedian.

In a bizarre statement, Netflix doubled down on its support of Chappelle and implied cancel culture was irresponsible.

Chappelle has created controversy before, especially in his rhetoric around the trans community.

This installment doesn’t include anything that wasn’t really said before.

Chappelle is known for being crass, no holds barred, and every so often saying something quite prolific about the Black experience.

I believe for many African Americans, his stand-up seems to have an extraordinary finger on what contributes to racial tension, whilst being “funny.”

However, it’s inescapable how he drops the n-word like an adjective, describes gay men as feminine caricatures and lesbians as “Rosie the Riveter” architypes.

In regards to the trans movement, Roxanne Gay said in Wednesday’s The New York Times that Chappelle suggests, “trans people are performing the gender equivalent of blackface.”

I think what’s most upsetting to people about Chappelle’s comments is his conviction that he was being progressive in his stance.

Chappelle concluded with the story of a trans comedian Daphne Dorman. Dorman, a major fan of his, apparently remained unfazed about his trans jokes.

Dorman had little to no experience in stand up, but Chappelle allowed her to open for him at an act in San Francisco.

Allegedly, Dorman bombed. But in a moment toward the end of headliner’s act when a more open-ended conversation between pro and newcomer happened, Dorman yelled back to Chappelle, “I don’t need you to understand me. I need you to understand I’m having a human experience.”

“I believe you,” he said, “because it takes one to know one,” no doubt referencing the struggles of Black Americans.

Less than a week later, Dorman committed suicide.

When I was originally going to write this piece, I was going to say how I thought the last 20 minutes of the special were incredibly nuanced and intellectually transcendent brilliance on Chappelle’s part.

And then I started thinking: That was Chappelle’s point, and Dorman’s story, however heartbreaking, was cynically repurposed for his own hollow argument.

My theory is his transphobia comes from his anger against continued systematic racism.

Chappelle looks at it, as did I, that race, unlike contemporary gender, is not interchangeable.

People of color know too well how to recognize when they’re being treated differently. You can’t hide skin color from ignorant people.

I always assumed that when people transitioned, they were finally free and their discomfort vanished.

I personally do not understand the feeling that I was born the wrong sex.

However, I understand fighting to be comfortable in the body of a Black man in America.

It is still a process of truly being comfortable in my own skin.

“I can’t change my race to make my life easier, so how can you change your gender” was the thought I kept to myself as media increasingly demanded the world to be more trans tolerant.

I now recognize my thoughts are of someone in need of sitting with that concept of empathy that Chappelle was shallowly promoting.

I learned this week you can’t preach about tearing down walls while you construct others.

So, I would like to use this space to do what Chappelle failed to do in “The Closer.”

It’s never OK to laugh at the expense of someone’s pain.

No one’s hardships are above anyone else’s. There’s no winner in the game of social intolerance.

We all have room for compassionate growth.


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