A Closer Look at Dave Chappelle’s “Closer”

A Closer Look at Dave Chappelle’s “Closer”

So I watched the Dave Chappelle “Closer” special, and if I had to choose a reaction for how it went, I’d have to say ultimately I was frustrated. There are points Dave makes in the show that are spot on, I mean SPOT ON about civil rights struggles we’re still having in the US.

When it comes to the rights of black people, he wasn’t wrong: it was easier for Caitlyn Jenner to change her name and be accepted than it was for Mohammed Ali back in the day. The LGBTQ struggle has made fast advances in the past decade, while the rights of black, Latino, and indigenous people continue to face monumental challenges. His story about his trans friend at the end is rather sad and sweet, too, but, and this is the big issue, he totally whiffs it from there.

He gets so damned close to understanding: empathy, yes, empathy is vital, but his empathy seems to only go so far. He embraces the notion of being a TERF (though he clearly has no idea what TERFs actually do to demolish transgender people’s lives), and he engages in a form of pain olympics that instead of putting us all together fighting, he kind of makes it seem like LGBTQ folks haven’t been fighting for generations, too. It is immensely frustrating because he gets so close, but ultimately, he fails, and hurts all of us.

He totally neglects non-white transgender folks. They are not mentioned at all, and his referral to transgender women as women is more of a humoring notion rather than recognizing that they are women. He keeps alive the notion that they’re pseudo-women, which we know is the kind of thinking that gets us killed, which he does not mention, either. He does what so many conservatives do, which is to lighten our struggles as being ‘lesser than’ because we’re clearly reaching for a fantasy idea. He never says this directly, must make that clear, he never says that directly, but he lays heavily upon the suggestion with how he compares them to “white people in black face.”

Do I think he’s transphobic? Yeah.
Do I think he’s misogynist? Yeah.

It is the same socially acceptable misogyny and transphobia towards our community that white people direct towards the black community. It’s implicit, structural, baked in. He gets so close with empathy, he really does, but then falls back on old tropes and kills that hope.

“Gender is a fact,” he says, completely mixing up sex and gender. “We come from women’s vaginas,” he says, using the same gender tropes in the same way “nature made humans to procreate” that homophobes use against gay people.

So even as he says he isn’t, he ends up reinforcing the very prejudices that he complains about against black folks, just against a different group of people being oppressed. He doesn’t see it because he doesn’t understand, because he doesn’t respect that group.

He’s like every discriminating person I’ve ever known who likes to know a few “good ones” and speak about the “bad ones,” like your “I’m not a racist but” Uncle who says he likes black people, but many of them are lazy and cheaters on welfare.

This is the crux of Dave’s comedy, his message for this special, except the LGBTQ community, and especially transgender folks are used in place of black folks, or Latinos. This is where it fails, and this is why it’s awful.

It perpetuates the very derogatory idea that white people still hold against black people to this day, and he doesn’t even recognize it. I sincerely hope he does see it, because he has empathy, he just needs to extend it further. It will extend back to him. Until then, though, despite his protestations, he truly is punching down, and it’s against more people than he realizes, ones he would otherwise call friend or a brother.

He gets so close in “Closer,” but it’s just not close enough.

Thanks for reading.

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