Chappelle’s Cynicism

I like Jessie Gender.  I will heartily recommend her videos in general (though admittedly, I don’t much care for the strictly Star Trek content). She is a kind and forgiving voice with a flair for intellectually dissecting conflicts. Sometimes, however, too kind and forgiving, as with her recent video on the too-much-discussed Dave Chappelle.

I think Jessie got it very wrong here because she forgot to take a perspective into account. The argument seems to have been “Dave Chappelle is just a guy getting things wrong” vs. “Dave Chappelle is a committed hatemonger” (the latter argument getting quite a bit of backup from the fact that he explicitly called himself a TERF like Rowling in this show), but I don’t think either of them are true. I don’t think he considers trans people to be an oppressed minority he is trying, badly, to ally with, nor does he think we are a rot that needs to be stamped out of society. Both of those require an emotional investment in trans issues and taking a side in the “trans debate”, and it seems obvious to me that the main reason all of these things keep happening is a much simper third option:

Chappelle does not care one whit about trans people as a group, either way. He would not give up as much as a single pubic hair of his own wealth to help us, nor to help actual hate groups.

See, the argument that he is a failing ally is steaming nonsense for a really simple reason: time. Chappelle’s been a televised comedian for decades, and this is now at least year five of him involving himself in this specific controversy. He is an intelligent man. If he had any desire to educate himself or become a better ally, he has had ample time to do so.

He’s gotten worse instead. Not frothing, destroying-his-own-life worse like some people, just a bit worse. It’s just that he doesn’t give a shit.

I believe there is excellent evidence that Chappelle views trans people (really, all queer people, but as usual trans people are the epitome, the queer-squared) as a bourgeois trend, something you have to be a self-unaware privileged person to be. Something inextricably rooted in being white, in whiteness, regardless if you’re not. Huge swaths of his content places Black people both culturally and in their fight for liberation in opposition to queer people (which is, incidentally, itself perpetuating an inaccurate and harmful stereotype of Black people). Basically, he thinks of trans people as a kind of ‘hipster’.

In that framing, everything he’s said and done makes sense. Consider the stereotypical ‘hipster’, a bespectacled flannel-wearing upper-middle-class college guy with a beard and a man bun, someone who has never tasted oppression, someone who might have a good heart but has a privilege-blinkered understanding of the world. The poster child for ‘unwitting gentrification’. This is how Chappelle thinks of us.

To him, the argument that he hates us is thus silly, because who could care about hipsters enough to have a visceral loathing for them? Silly little things, they can do what they want, but of course no right-thinking person will take them seriously. Hipsters claiming to be oppressed? Pleeeease! That just proves they have no idea what oppression is, and deserve to be needled for that. Hipsters angry about a comedy special?? Hah, whiny babies!

And so on and so forth. Leaving the question, why then bother with us so often and so horribly, if he doesn’t really care?

Cold hard cynicism. He sees a bunch of whiny white hipsters who have the ear of some portion of the media, and who nobody he cares about will take seriously. This last special, and Netflix itself, have gotten a lot of press they would not otherwise have gotten because of this. We’re a fucking marketing stunt. And it worked, because you can rest assured that the group of people willing to vocally praise his “brave anti-political correctness stance” and even go out of their way to support him for it is way bigger than the group who will actually pull the plug on Netflix over this. The public at large doesn’t give a shit about trans people one way or the other, and six months from now at best they’ll remember Chappelle was in the news for something that Shawn at work said was really good.

Netflix, of course, has made the same calculation, but in their case even colder. Chappelle has a shitty, loose, inaccurate point of view about trans people; Netflix doesn’t even have that. They are a completely amoral corporation. They’ll happily buy and push all sorts of pro-trans and pro-queer content and paint their logo with rainbows in June, and also happily buy and push all sorts of anti-trans and anti-queer content too, because bigots have money, and most people don’t care, and BEST OF ALL… they can play both sides in the media. Every time a reporter calls them up for a wishy-washy corporate “We respect everyone’s rights” speech, that’s a win. That’s an ad.

And to them, that’s all we’re for.


  1. DrVanNostrand says

    As someone who was a fan at one point, his narrow mindedness makes me sad, though I wonder if all the people that are shocked now watched his last special. It was almost as bad, which was why I didn’t bother watching this one in the first place. Overall, I think Roxanne Gay summed it up best in the Times:

    “At the end of his special, Mr. Chappelle admonishes the L.G.B.T.Q. community one last time, imploring that we leave his “people” alone. If it wasn’t clear from his words, the snapshots of him with his famous pals in the closing credits of “The Closer” make it abundantly clear that Dave Chappelle’s people aren’t men or women or Black people. His people are wealthy celebrities, and he resents even the possibility of them facing consequences for their actions.”

  2. Mano Singham says

    I cannot find the link now but I read that he accused those who criticized him and his fellow TERFs of ‘punching down’.

    Really? He thinks that wealthy and powerful people like him and Rowling are being punched down by the LGBTQ community, when it is the actual opposite?

    The lack of self-awareness and hypersensitivity of people like Chappelle is astounding.

  3. Allison says

    imploring that we leave his “people” alone.

    So Black gay men, lesbian women, trans women, trans men, etc. are not “his people”?

  4. says

    @3 Allison

    Apparently not. It’s been brought up. I gather the ‘he thinks queer people are bougie whiteness’ from the things he has been saying for years. I don’t know if he ignores Black queer people because he thinks there aren’t enough of them to bother with or he thinks it’s a way to align themselves with (what he thinks is) white privilege or what.

  5. says

    @5 Intransitive

    Yup. Liked that a lot. Frankly I think it’s the thin-skinned dudebros who really need the piss taken out of them. After all, the thing to make fun of them for is their attitude and chosen behavior, when all they can make fun of us for is doing the best we can with what we are.

  6. says

    I canceled him before this transphobic bullshit on account of his defending Trump during the run-up to his election. Yeah, he’s a talented comic that left an indelible mark on our culture, but still… or maybe he isn’t even talented anymore, I wouldn’t know bc not giving him money or attention. I’m disappointed that anybody progressive would waste an ounce of effort trying to redeem a shitbro entertainer for love of their past works.

  7. says

    Okay, I don’t really know who this Dave Chappelle guy is. I mean, I watched something of his many many years ago on the recommendation of several friends, but I found it unfunny, boring, and predictable, so (as with Andrew Dice Clay or Seinfeld) I figured once was enough and I never looked back. For personal reasons I don’t expose myself to anti-trans or TERF content, so I would have avoided watching his current Netflix special even if I’d liked his earlier work, but as I didn’t, skipping it would have been no sacrifice on my part. I don’t actually care how Dave Chappelle views trans people, any more than I would care about his views on the authorship of The Revenger’s Tragedy (assuming that he has any). The reason I cancelled my Netflix subscription was not specifically that they ran this piece of crap, but that Ted Sarandos explicitly conflated hate and diversity in a statement defending it. That’s crossing a line as far as I’m concerned.

  8. says

    The most insane thing, IMO, is the amount of precious broadcast time he’s dedicated to this. It was something ludicrous like 1/3 of this special, and he went on long enough in all the others – literally, AFAIK, ALL the others – that I think he’s clocking in at about 1/4 of all his time in his comedy specials is dedicated to mocking trans people.

    That’s a LOT. That’s a strangely obsessive lot. The only question is, who is obsessed? Chappelle, or Chappelle’s opinion of his audience?

    The horrific part is he’s right. It’s great for business.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    “who could care about hipsters enough to have”… dedicated this much time and effort to worrying about them.

    Answer: D. Chappelle.

  10. deanna smith says

    as a long time reader, first time commenter… and transgender woman…

    i too enjoy “some” of jessie’s content, but any time that a media or internet celebrity is called to task for transphobia, she does this weird song and dance where she gaslights our community. insisting that clear blatant transphobia and trans-exclusionary policies and beliefs are just a “difference of opinion”.

    hence the reason i trimmed her from my youtube feed a long time ago.

  11. says

    @12 deanna smith


    I think she serves – deliberately, by considered choice – an important role, being someone who can show cis people why transphobia is transphobia in a way wrapped in so much softness and lack of willingness to react with anger or usually even hurt, that fence-sitters leaning the bad way can engage with her and maybe learn better.

    In service to doing that, though, she often softballs way too much, and does it in a way that I don’t think is quite up to the level of ‘gaslighting our community’ – but there’s definitely a good argument for it and I wouldn’t even try to defend that hill.

  12. says

    Chapelle is not a victim of “political correctness run amok,” or “cancel culture,” or the “illiberal left,” or “trans orthodoxy.” He’s chosen to be a full-time comedian, and like most other jobs, comedy has risks — in this case, the risk that people won’t always find your jokes funny. What was LOL hilarious last week won’t necessarily be just as hilarious tomorrow, let alone next week or next year. This is true for ALL comedians, not just those who “dare” to offend some group of people who have allegedly been coddled before this or that edgy-brave-hero-jokester came along.

    Then again, these days it seems like public martyrbation is being used as a form of risk-mitigation for comedians…

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