Dave Chappelle and Connecticut Racism: No Laughing Matter

This  column appeared in the September 12 – 19, 2013 edition of the Hartford News… 

Community Update: Tuesday night I spoke with Noel McGregor, who runs a food pantry at the Grace Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Prospect Avenue in Hartford. McGregor reports that the West End Civic Association has been harassing the facility, expressing baseless “concerns” which resulted in a Thursday meeting with the Licenses and Inspections Division. The food pantry has a health permit and is only open on Wednesdays for two hours (11am – 1pm). McGregor will attend the meeting. “There are good people in the West End and people who talk a good game,” McGregor said. “WECA doesn’t want to help people. I think this is more about classism than racism, but racism is a part of it. No other food pantry has been harassed like ours to get a health permit.” For the record, I’m a former WECA Vice President. I quit because of structural racism there. In my opinion, WECA is an elitist country club posing as a community organization. WECA members gave me nothing but lame excuses when I confronted them about not supporting racial justice legislation at the State Capitol. I refused to be used as a token house negro, so I left. It’s obvious that little has changed with WECA. Stay tuned for an update on this developing story.

 

Rest In Power, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair and Tupac Shakur. Peace to the victims and families of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Sunday, September 15 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Denise perished in the blast. Pac died on September 13, 1996 seven days after being shot in Las Vegas…Comedian Dave Chappelle walked off the stage in response to obnoxious hecklers during an August 29 show in Hartford. Mayor Pedro Segarra, who said NOTHING on his Twitter page about the recent rash of shootings in this city, chose to join in on the local and national backlash against a Black comic whose comedy includes a harsh, insightful critique on racism. Segarra wrote, “Dave Chappelle should quit whining, do his job and try some yoga. #HartfordHasIt” Yeah, we have poverty, Black/Brown unemployment, racial economic disparity & gun violence. The poverty rate is one of the highest in the country, consistently hovering around the 30% mark or higher.

 

The jobless rate for young Black males is as high as 50% in some parts of Hartford. Latino unemployment has reached Depression-era levels. Blacks and Latinos earn 60 cents for every dollar white people make and possess 10 cents of net wealth for every dollar whites have. There have been 16 homicides in Hartford this year and an average of 25 murders every year for the past decade. Poverty is clearly a root cause of violence in this city, yet Segarra and Council Pesident Shawn “I Don’t Talk About Race” Wooden ignored a letter from the Community Party requesting that they participate in an Action Poverty Conference aimed at drafting anti-poverty legislation.  Segarra, it’s time for you to take your own advice. Stop your tone deaf whining about Chappelle. Start doing your job which is supposed to be about serving the people, not acting as a stooge for the white power structure. During his weekly appearance on the Fox 61 Capitol Report program Wooden got out his tap shoes, flashed his winning smile and said that Chappelle should “get over it.”

 

Lesli-Ann Lewis and Ann Marie Adams don’t think that Chappelle should “quit whining” and “get over it.” Both wrote concise Ebony Magazine opinion pieces on the racist undertones of the Chappelle incident. Lewis, who attended the show, quickly grasped what the white mainstream media could or would not.

 

I doubt many will say the audience deserved it. I doubt they will quote Dave or say that he warned the audience. That he began to discuss a  larger, historical issue: the Black entertainer and White consumption. I’m writing this to be fair: it needs to be written, it needs to be read. It  needs to be understood. Dave Chappelle walked off stage tonight and Black people  understand why.

 

“Being in that crowd, a sea of drunk White male faces and seeing Chappelle sit there and be jeered at made me uncomfortable. Heckling isn’t uncommon for comedians but often when a comedian as famous as Chappelle puts their foot down, it is usually respected. 

 

“While the racial makeup of the crowd was incidental, the way they treated Chappelle is not. It speaks to a long complicated history: the relationship between the White audience and the Black entertainer. This is a relationship you can easily trace to early minstrel shows, to archetypes of  Blacks that still define the roles we’re offered today. We have seen more Black comedians bow to racist tropes, demean themselves—albeit  unintentionally—for White audiences. 

 

“Chappelle wasn’t having a meltdown. This was a Black artist shrugging the weight of White consumption, deciding when enough was enough. This isn’t the first time Chappelle has done so and it isn’t the first time his behavior has been characterized as a meltdown. 

 

“There is a long history of asking African-Americans to endure racism silently; it’s characterized as grace, as strength. Chappelle’s Connecticut audience, made up of largely young White males, demanded a shuck and jive. Men who seemed to have missed the fine satire of the Chappelle show demanded he do characters who, out of the context of the show look more like racist  tropes, than mockery of America’s belief in them. When he expressed shock at the fact that he’d sat there and been yelled at for so long, people yelled that they’d paid him. They felt paying for a show meant they could verbally harass him, direct him in any tone of voice, as though they’d bought him.

 

“After his first ‘meltdown,’ Chappelle said he left his show because he wasn’t sure if he was being laughed with or at. Seeing him walk off that stage last night, I think he’d decided on the answer. They had been missing his message, they weren’t laughing with him. And I’m glad to see that in Connecticut, he had the courage to laugh back.” 

 

Adams’ assessment was also on the money. “Several attendees claimed that racial animus was at the root of the  disruption—something Chappelle himself obviously felt, choosing to walk off  the stage to Kanye West’s ‘New Slaves’: ‘F*ck you and your corporation/Y’all  n*ggas can’t control me/I know that we the new slaves…’

 

“Those who cling to post-racial fantasies might see him as ‘unprofessional,’  wishing he had eschewed a rowdy crowd littered with White drunkards. He should have suffered in silence with a minstrel-like grin. Apparently, their failed imagination didn’t grasp an alternative reality of a man who, like Richard Pryor before him, once traveled to the continent of Africa, had a profound experience  and realized he was not a ‘n*gga’ there, reaffirming the notion that race shapes the cultural eye and stains social interactions. And place matters. In short, Chappelle just didn’t feel like tap dancing for master Charlie in Connecticut, even if he paid $50 for a ticket.

 

“Location is a crucial unit of analysis for Chappelle’s supposed ‘meltdown.’ It’s especially apt because many people perceive Connecticut as a liberal state, the cradle of the abolitionist movement and a  respite from Jim Crow segregation. And it touts the story of a 17-year-old  Martin Luther King, Jr., who mingled freely with Whites there before his ascendancy in the civil rights movement. But many Black locals once dubbed Connecticut as ‘the Mississippi of the  North.’

 

“When Blacks migrated from the South to ‘the land of steady habits,’ they were surprised to find racial animus and segregation not by law, but by custom.  In the 1940s, Southern Blacks and West Indians poured into what was then the richest city of its size to fill jobs on tobacco farms, in households and factories. They lived primarily in Hartford, cordoned off in the North End with the oldest housing stock. Today, most Blacks still live in the North End. But many weren’t in the Comcast Theater.

 

“Shows at that theater usually attract suburban Whites, who may compare Chappelle’s response to that of Andy Kaufman—who famously read The Great Gatsby on stage when booed.  

“Chappelle was once booed at the Apollo Theater’s famed ‘Amateur Night,’ an incident that he credits with giving him the courage to make it in the business.  However, the subtext of the White, drunk hecklers faced by the former Comedy Central star last week was markedly different. That courage, which fueled his meteoric success, morphed into defiance. Dave Chappelle knows he doesn’t have to debase himself before a White audience and so, he won’t. 

 

“To better understand why Chappelle walked off stage on that now-infamous night in Hartford, consider this: Connecticut has a long history of  demotivating Black and brown people, especially students. Consequently, Connecticut has the highest academic achievement gap and one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. Additionally, it has one of the highest  suspension rates for kindergarteners. The ‘Nutmeg State’ also wrestled with slavery and servitude well into the early 20th century, a history erased from the public’s consciousness until 2002.  Moreover, the state required the only school desegregation case in New England and maintains both one of the highest unemployment rates for Blacks and a high premature birth rate for Black women. In addition, claims of job discrimination and racial bullying abound.

 

“The most prominent was of a Hartford Distributor employee Omar Thornton, who claimed racial harassment for years before he shot and killed several White co-workers in 2010 in a town that has been dubbed ‘Klanchester.’ Since the 1980s, the Ku Klux Klan has taken a firm root in Connecticut’s soil. And like Mississippi in the 20th century, the state just may be ground zero for the century’s civil rights efforts. Incidentally, Connecticut perfected the idea of ‘post racialism’ long before it enveloped the country. New Englanders don’t talk about race openly. In fact, silence is a political strategy. But this imposed silence is also a form of  oppression. The Chappelle incident in Hartford masterfully shattered that silence. More  importantly, it revealed the oppressive burden of race and racism in the land of steady habits.”

 

The responses of Segarra and Wooden to Chappelle underscores the Democratic Party’s total disregard for racial justice issues. Don’t take my word for it; take a look at Segarra’s and Wooden’s Twitter feeds. You won’t see any references to poverty, Black/Latino unemployment, racial income/wealth disparity or police containment of low income urban neighborhoods, because their job is to contain Blacks and Latinos and maintain the status quo. President Barack Obama and the Democrats are leading this country into war against Syria (Senator Chris Murphy did vote no). Politico reported that defense giant Raytheon, a manufacturer of the Tomahawk cruise missles which most likely would be used in an attack on Syria, saw their stock prices soar to a 52-week high after the Obama adminstration’s war plan became public. This means more money is being poured into the military industrial complex as part of an ongoing U.S. campaign of global hegemony, while vital social services are cut here at home. Segarra and Wooden remained silent as Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly slashed funding for social services during the 2013 legislative session. Martin Luther King said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” That’s no joke. 

 

Visit the CP Plan C: The People’s Budget of Connecticut page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Plan-C-The-Peoples-Budget-of-Connecticut/134064293347049  Check out CP on Twitter for state, national, global headlines and updates on our Jashon Bryant/Trayvon Martin Act, coming in 2014. Stay tuned for info on Rep. Matt Ritter’s workplace bullying town hall, coming later this year. CP will also introduce our Safe Work Environment Act in 2014. Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for CP’s public service announcement on our social justice platform. Contact us at 860-206-8879 or samuelssloflo@aol.com.    

 

Resources:

 

 

Tupac Shakur 1992 Malcolm X Grassroots Movement banquet speech:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex4PtkmLvgo

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower 1961 farewell address on the military industrial complex:

 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y06NSBBRtY

 

Politico report on defense giant Raytheon’s stock prices rising after the Obama administration’s Syria war plan became public:

 

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/syria-strike-could-bring-raytheon-payday-96045.html

 

Global Research report on the neocon Project for the New American Century (global hegemony):

 

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-neocons-project-for-the-new-american-century-american-world-leadership-syria-next-to-pay-the-price/5305447

 

 

David Samuels

Founder

Community Party

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