Review: Dave Chappelle’s brilliance does not excuse this

Editor’s note: Mark Goldfeder is CEO and director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group committed to ensuring equality and defending Jewish rights. The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.


Comedian Dave Chappelle remains one of the funniest people alive. But when it comes to not standing firm against hate, he has a well-established problem, and he showed it live again on Saturday night.

In keeping with modern “Saturday Night Live” tradition, Chappelle took over the show after the last election. But instead of focusing on the middle ground, he devoted much of his commentary to recent anti-Semitic comments from Kanye West and Kyrie Irving. At first, it seemed like he could really disapprove of the hateful things he said. But instead, in what has now unfortunately become a modern Chappelle tradition, he went halfway to blame the minority group for being hurt, and explain how the black community is the real victim here.

First, in regards to the West, Chappelle actually reinforced the anti-Semitic ideas that the West had spewed (and others then pushed signs in his defense). Chappelle explained why it’s okay to think anti-Semitic thoughts (like Jews controlling Hollywood), but you can’t say them out loud in this climate. When he got to Irving, Chappelle expressed surprise that the NBA All-Star got in trouble for endorsing “some movie” that “seemed like, I don’t know, some anti-Semitic tropes or something.”

Chappell noted that Irving was “slow to apologize” but said the NBA’s “list of demands to get him back on track was getting longer and longer and that’s where I draw the line.” And that’s where Chappelle went off the rails. He concluded his segment on Irving by telling a national audience, “I know Jews have been through terrible things all over the world, but you can’t blame that on black Americans, you can’t.”

First, because Chappelle hadn’t seen the movie or read the book of the same title. The film, which Irving admitted to his millions of followers, has no “anti-Semitic tropes” as Chappell and others have claimed in their efforts to downplay it. The film focuses on the kinds of lies that have directly led to discrimination and violence against Jews throughout history.

Among other things, the film accuses the Jews of orchestrating a global conspiracy and denies the history of the Holocaust. Six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were tortured and murdered in cold blood – along with a large number of black victims – but Irving publicly promoted (and later defended) a “documentary” that claimed the Holocaust never happened, and that the Jews did it. what they had “concealing their nature and protecting their status and power.” That’s why, Dave, Kyrie Irving was in trouble.

Second, Irving’s to-do list could now be completed – by a fairly involved person – in hours, not days. He needs to attend some meetings, go through sensitivity training and fulfill his voluntary pledge to donate to some positive cause instead of paying the typical (but less productive) NBA fine. Not one thing on the list was excessive or even out of the ordinary compared to the NBA’s historical protocols for dealing with these situations.

No one blamed black Americans. Irving and West were really opposed to the hateful things they said and did.

It is right and proper to get angry when people are openly anti-Semitic, even if those people are black. This in no way means that anyone inside or outside the Jewish community who is angry with Irving and West is blaming black Americans as a group. Establishing this false dichotomy (either you’re always with all black people, even if you’re anti-Semitic, or else you’re against all black Americans) is not only wrong, it’s dangerous and stupid. It is dangerous because it continues to fuel the fires of baseless hatred, and it is foolish because it unnecessarily alienates natural and long-standing allies.

Chappelle seems to understand the zero sum of bullying and discrimination. In previous specials, he railed against the LGBTQ community because he felt the world cared more than black people. He said things like, “Gay people are the minority until they have to be white again.”

It is true, however, that it is possible for more than one group to be oppressed, and that supporting one group in their time of need does not exclude or harm another group. You can be against homophobia and anti-Semitism and racism at the same time, without cheapening it in any way. Everything is not just black and white.

It’s also true that Chappelle seems to lack nuance when it comes to Jews and race. Just as there are black members of the LGBTQ community, there are also many Jews of color, and Jews of all guises have been steadily degraded in insidious ways. For example, in America, Jews were considered non-white during the times when whites were being privileged, and today they are often told (like Chappelle) that they are just privileged whites when they demand recognition of their struggle.

The proper response is always to call out oppression in every context, not to repeatedly try to reframe every conversation as a secret referendum on race. Chappelle is a great man with an important voice. He can and should do better.