Chris Rock: A good starting point for race discussion?

I’m talking about his famous “Niggaz v. Black People” routine which is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwejDybX8oA&feature=related

Race is a taboo subject in politics. The mere mention of it is enough to stop a conversation. In fact, if you describe someone you met as a “black man” or an “Asian female” it is enough to make scorn come your way.

While comedy, this piece sums it up for me and many others. I am a white male who is troubled by the activities of some blacks in society and, at times, one feels that those people’s actions speak for an entire race. That is wrong to feel that way, but with limited interaction because of existing social constructs, those feelings form, just like those feelings arise for blacks as it pertains to white people.

Blacks sometimes feel that all white people are like the Klan members in the deep south or some rich corporate executives who could care less about their families. Those executives could care less about poor white families as well.

Couldn’t the same satire be done for white people? Couldn’t a white person say, “I hate white trash so much, they should let me join the black panther party!” or " When I stop in rural West Virginia, it’s not the media I fear, it’s inbred crackers like the Jesco White family."

It seems that each race has an underclass that the other race erroneously attributes to that entire race due to ignorance and/or lack of exposure. If we all said that THOSE people, be they inner city thugs, or Ku Klux Klan members do not represent US, then we could start a better dialogue on race. Thoughts?

I hope that this came out okay…Let the fireworks begin…

Fireworks is right.

And no, a comedian’s comedy routine is never a good place to start a discussion about anything but comedy. It’s sometimes OK to drop a comment in referring to it, but not as a serious point to consider in a serious discussion.

Let the fireworks begin? Nothing you’ve said is controversial.

“I sometimes find myself making judgments about an entire race based on the actions of a few of its members but I realize that this is wrong.”

“The KKK does not represent all white people.”

Nothing new here.

And to answer your question, white people make jokes about stereotypical inbred white trash all the time.

See, there’s the problem right there. That’s an absurd bit of racist nonsense, albeit. People are responsible for their own actions. Just because people share the same skin color/culture/religion/ethnicity/preference for coke over pepsi, that doesn’t mean that their actions reflect on a single other person in their group.

But once we get to the point where we say “okay, that’s nonsense, don’t do that” that’s pretty much the end of the conversation.

Three replies so far. You say that I’ve said nothing controversial. The other two are reloading…

Nothing in the other two replies said anything contrary to what you did, except that comedy isn’t useful in a discussion on race.

Edit: And even that wasn’t actually in disagreement to anything you said, considering the title of the thread is asking if it is, in fact, a good starting point.

Weird editing glitch.

Should be “albeit one you realize is nonsense.”

I happened to read the Wikipedia entry about this routine just a day or two ago. Rock’s comments about it pretty much sum up the problem with the OP, and maybe with this whole discussion:

I haven’t sat down and watched the whole routine in a while, but you know, nobody is going to stick up for the people Rock was criticizing. It’s easy (and it’s not wrong) to bash drug dealers and thieves and gangsters and deadbeat dads. If the OP is a white person who is troubled by black drug dealers and thieves and so on - guess what? So are black people, at least the ones who have to deal with the above. I don’t think you’re the first one to point out this is a problem. :wink: Not to deny there are some problems that primarily affect black people, but one of those problems is the fact that people are this quick to stereotype and use the example of one minority as a projection of the characteristics or failings of another group.

That’s not my experience. My experience is that race can kill a conversation by giving people license to start stereotyping and indulging in a lot of ridiculousness and uninformed overgeneralizing which reflects their own prejudices rather than any semblance of reality - but it won’t stop a conversation. It’ll often quadruple its length while decimating its content.

This is very rarely true. People may look askance at you if you inject race into a discussion where it is not relevant, particularly if you do it in a way that suggests you’re stereotyping people. People sometimes go out of their way to avoid using race as a descriptor. But just mentioning it won’t invite scorn and ridicule.

Can I be the idiot who says ‘if you know it’s wrong, don’t do it?’ It doesn’t make sense to blame black people for the stereotypes white people have about them.

I’m afraid to ask why you think this.

A couple of problems here: first off, who is ‘we?’ Second, why isn’t this just a given? Why do you need some kind of assurance from white people, black people, or whoever, that the worst (most violent, criminal, whatever) members of a group do not represent the group as a whole? I thought that was obvious. And what is the use of this kind of disavowal anyway? It’s become a standard part of politics, but it’s useless. It’s lip service at best and at worst, it’s dumping on easy targets and stereotyping on its own. Picking on an underclass has some troubling aspects of its own - it sounds like you’re blaming a lot of things on dumb poor people.

I agree. Race is so inextricably tied up in so many aspects of the U.S. collective psyche, and so many aspects of historical circumstance, that letting jokes be the starting point won’t help. People write volumes about this in order to flesh all out of these things–a comic reduces things to get quick laughs.

To elaborate on what Marley23 and I just said, I don’t think this is true at all. Race as a subtext runs throughout political discourse. Maybe explicit reference to race can be problematic, but you can make a good case–by way of careful linguistic analysis–to identify it lying underneath so much of what gets said, especial now that we have a president who is (half) black. Simply by using language like this…

…you index a very large backlog of discourse that runs through colonialism all the way back to Manichean ideology, and probably further.

Um… what?

Ever notice how white people overgeneralize like this, and black people overgeneralize like this

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people, most if not all white, who often use Chris Rock’s stand-up routines as a jumping-off point for “race” discussions. I always wonder why they don’t cite, say, Ellis Cose or Cornell West or another academic. Someone who makes a living discussing “race matters”. The only hypothesis that I can come up with is that Chris Rock makes talking about race comfortable for a certain segment of society…a segment who doesn’t really want a serious discussion. His routines make them feel less guilty about their own bigotry or prejudices. Sorta like, “See, even Chris Rock thinks black people are niggers. So it’s alright for me to think that too!”

Remember when Dave Chappelle dropped off the face of the earth? The explanation he gave made perfect sense to me, but received a lot of criticism from the “masses” (read, white folks). From what I gathered, he was concerned about the effects his brand of racially self-deprecating humor was having on his audience. It was intention to exploit and make fun of racial stereotypes, but it seemed to him that he was perpetuating them…entrenching them rather than bucking them. Even though I liked the Dave Chappelle show, I could see his point and had no problem with him bailing out. I don’t think a lot of his white fans really understood his point-of-view. They just thought he went bonkers.

On the subject of the OP, no. Please don’t start with comedy. Though allow it to make you think by all means.

This may be slightly OT but on the back of a conversation with my old schoolfriend about race can I just throw these thoughts out…

I grew up in an area of the UK that was predominantly white.
There were probably less than a dozen people in our secondary school of 1300 pupils that could be considered non-white. Certainly few enough for each of them to be considered as individuals rather than a group. There weren’t enough to form a cohesive cultural group and so I can’t remember us jumping to any huge conclusions based on skin colour.
We weren’t angels, I’m sure there was teasing based on their differences but no more and no less than the ginger or the fat kids.

We did however behave in quite prejudicial ways to a group of 100-200 people who, though they looked just like the rest of us, happened to come from a village that was quite economically deprived. There were some really bad sorts from there and we were happy to tar everyone with the same brush.

My point? the worst people we knew came from a specific white cultural group and we were happy to apply our prejudices to all from that area. Of course being white ourselves we couldn’t extend those prejudices to the white population more widely so we kept it to a low level, locational bigotry. Had that cultural group not been white it would have been easier to use that broad brush more widely. Instead of being culturally bigoted we would’ve been racially bigoted.
In a way we were lucky that, at least in our case, the downtrodden, deprived and desperate people we came into contact with were just like us.
(not so lucky for the people we treated quite cruelly)

Just my thoughts anyway.

I’m not sure why you’re puzzled by that comment. People on this board, for instance, are very quick to bitch-slap somebody (particularly in the Pit) for saying something along the lines of “Man, today this fat black dude cut me off in traffic.” I’m not saying it’s correct to characterize somebody by the gratuitous inclusion of color or physical attributes, so please don’t unload all over me. I’m just saying that jtgain’s comment is not all that odd.

I just want to say that I think a comic’s work can be an excellent place to start a serious discussion of race, or any other serious topic. America has a tradition of comics being able to talk about issues in a more open way than more “serious” segments of the media from Mark Twain to Richard Pryor to Jon Stewart.

Why wouldn’t a work of art be an appropriate place to start a conversation on a serious topic?

I am not a racist, but I am very prejudiced against many subcultures (which I suppose makes me a subculturalist).

Cultural qualities I detest (especially when extant in combination)

Proud ignorance of any kind
The blend of low achievement and high fertility
Grossly distorted financial priorities
Silly Putty® ethics and or logic
Any form of unnecessary reliance on state support
Deadbeat dad-dism
Substance abuse
Disregard for the rights of others
Gross irresponsibility

There are a kumquat of buttloads of other qualities I detest that have nothing to do with the above and probably would not apply to the same people.

Rock was mentioning the subculture of blacks to whom several of the above apply. The same qualities appear in a subculture of every other ethnic and racial group and in every inhabited land.

The problem is that the word nigger (and its variants) has been used too often in application to ALL black people to ever be considered relegated to this subculture only. Barack Obama is a matrilineally Caucasian Ivy League graduate and self made millionaire and he’s been called nigger many many times. At the same point the term nigger ONLY applies to black people- there are many terms used for the white equivalents of the above (white trash, trailer trash, rednecks*, cracker, etc.) but none pack the same wallop or have the same baggage or level of offensiveness of the above.

I thought Rock’s routine was funny but I can understand why he discontinued it and got disgusted by it. It adds to much validation to racists to be able to say “See? A black millionaire says the same thing!” The Steve Carrell/The Office episode was brilliant but probably didn’t get through to any of the right people.

All minorities have a hatred of the members of their group who validate the stereotype. As a southerner I groan whenever a local Tea Partier or racist or toothless tornado bait who can violate every known rule of grammer in 15 words or less opens their mouth on camera; as a gay man I cringe when an obviously stoned and flaming club kid or hypersensitive professional victim ill-informed bitchy queen is interviewed as some sort of “Gay Community Spokesperson” and as an atheist I don’t like it when the resident atheist comes across as a God hating dick more than an average guy who doesn’t subscribe to supernatural dogma.

Point: It’s been entirely too long since somebody linked to Every one’s a little bit Racist
*Redneck and white trash did not used to be synonymous; I blame Foxworthy for this one.

Band name!

Band name!

Band name!

Band name!..oh.
Seriously though, good points.

A lot of people will think you’re bonkers if you walk away from a $50 million payday. But that aside, yes, I got what Chappelle was saying (it probably took me a few days) and it’s actually not different from what Rock says in the interview I quoted. He was also having trouble dealing with the pressure of his show’s success but when he decided some racists were using his comedy as a justification of their racism, and he found it very upsetting, so he dropped out of his show and that was the end of it.

Right, and it doesn’t have to be in a negative connotation. Yesterday I was supposed to meet with a guy, so I ask the receptionist where he was. She pointed to a group of people talking in the corner and said that he was the “taller gentleman with the gray suit.” That was enough to help me figure out who he was, but the much more distinguishing characteristics were that he was the only black man and he was also bald.

I can see not wanting to point out that he was bald because some people are sensitive to that, but we are so scared to mention race that she wouldn’t say that he is the “tall black man” even though that was certainly the best description. What is negative about mentioning a person’s race in a neutral context?