This blog was originally written for Byblacks.com
Like most people, last week I watched Dave Chappelle’s new special The Closer on Netflix to see what everyone was talking about. As someone who is considered Black Excellence, when Chappelle releases a special, Black folk will clear their day to see what this legend is making jokes about now. I was disappointed and confused as I watched the special and listened to Chappelle go on and on about his feelings toward the LGBTQ+ community, and how he felt they had a deep dislike for him. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I had no idea there had ever been beef between Chappelle and the queer community, and was confused he chose his final special in this set with Netflix to explain the dislike the queer community seemed to have for him, while seeming to worsen the relationship.
I didn’t find a large portion of the special to be funny at all. It wasn’t that I, as a bisexual, found it to be offensive, but I simply didn’t find any of it to be humorous. Chappelle describing that DaBaby’s career had taken a bigger hit due to his comments about AIDS instead of the fact that he shot and killed someone in Walmart said more to me about the state America is in, and very little about the Queer or Black communities. As a queer person, I found the special felt like berating the same tired point over and over. It left me wondering what the point of the entire hour special really was. I wasn’t offended, I was more so annoyed.
The special highlighted something that the oppressor has achieved, which is pinning the oppressed against each other. When Chappelle describes the jealousy he feels in seeing how Queer people have won some rights and freedoms in comparison to Black people, it felt like he missed the point. The common enemy here is white supremacy, not each other. And while yes, the Queer community has won some rights and freedoms (potentially because there are white queer people), making the queer community the enemy because Black people have not ‘won’ in the same way is not going to help us gain any equality or equity.
To be jealous of the Queer community also ignores the work Black Queer people, like Marsha P Johnson, have done to aid both communities and intersectionalities they identify as. It is true, and a shame, that Black people will be hated for their skin colour before a white Queer person will face the same backlash, because their Queerness is not as immediately perceived, but that is not the fault of the Queer folks or the Black folks!
What I think Chappelle could have done, is encourage the Black straight hip-hop community to start working on why they dislike the Queer community so much or still have a hard time accepting that both the Hip-Hop community and LGBTQ+ community can share a space. There were comments that Chappelle made, especially when discussing allowing his trans friend to open for his comedy shows, that showed a willingness to learn and grow and practice allyship, but those moments were often squashed by a pithy comment about how they couldn’t get along. The Black community seems afraid to give Queer people shared space because of how much they have suffered, yet there are Black Queer people who suffer because of their skin colour and because of who they love, or how they want to identify.
I don’t believe Chappelle himself is homophobic. A lot of the questions he has for the trans community show that there needs to be better mutual understanding and education to allow for better and more safe spaces.
What this special did achieve was proving that Netflix cares more about their bottom line than their LGBTQ+ employees. Netflix suspended three employees after they publicly shared their criticism of the special but claimed that wasn’t the reason they were fired. Those employees have since been reinstated. Then they also fired the employee (a pregnant Black woman) who organized a trans employee walkout, claiming it was because the employee leaked “vital information”. Despite having a lot of LGBTQ+ content, Netflix really showed their ass here. The CEO tried to apologize today, but it is too little too late.
This special should serve as a reminder to Black straight people that there’s a lot of work to do to understand how queer people have to exist on this planet. The straight community should be protecting us and thanking us. Look around, it is often the most vulnerable people; queer folks and marginalized folks, who are on the front lines of racial justice movements. Fighting for themselves to exist in queerness and fighting for you to exist in Blackness.