The Rotten Core of Identity Politics
Dave Chappelle's 'The Closer' exemplifies everything that is wrong with identity group obsession
I watched Dave Chappelle’s standup special, The Closer. I didn’t like it. Of course, I’ve never been much of a Chappelle fan so that isn’t all that surprising. But the reasons I didn’t like it almost certainly differ from the many others who did not appreciate the set, most of whom are screeching about transphobia. I think that’s utter nonsense. And I also think that there were some legitimately funny bits scattered throughout. But, still, I think the special warrants criticism. Now, I have no interest in joining in with the lynch mob and trying to cancel him. I want no part of that, whatsoever. That is not even remotely the purpose of this piece. To be honest, this piece is not truly about Dave Chappelle at all, but it is about the broader topic of racial identity and identity politics.
While I am largely using the routine as a jumping-off point, the rot goes much deeper than anything to do with this show or Chappelle’s comedy. I should also say that, while I am critical of Chapelle, I do greatly appreciate the fact that he is willing to openly push back against political correctness and the demand for wokeism, particularly when embracing the reality of gender against the transgender ideology. That much I am completely on board with and respect. With all of that said, I have a lot of issues with his routine and what it ultimately represents in the broader spectrum. I discussed the show at length with Jason Whitlock and Steve Kim on Fearless on Thursday, but I didn’t completely grasp what bothered me so much about the routine at the time. I initially had some general thoughts on the toxicity of tribalism, which I thought Dave seemed to criticize and also simultaneously embrace, and I voiced as much on the show. But after more reflection, I think it’s a bit more expansive and destructive than that. What really irritates me the most is this continual obsession with racial identity along with the insistence on viewing literally everything through that cracked lens. That irritation stems both from how Chappelle approaches his material and also how many people respond to it. He was actively embracing the rotten core of race identity tribalism and encouraging others to do the same. This, of course, isn’t a new phenomenon. It has been going on for a long time. These performers encourage their audiences to embrace the presupposition that black people are inherent victims and other groups are inherent oppressors, then craft jokes around that foundation. It is the same presupposition that underlies Critical Race Theory and what drives the perpetually destructive victimhood mentality. Consider this line from a story he told about a man calling the cops on him. He said, “Gay people are minorities - until they need to be white again.” This dichotomy of victim and oppressor lies at the root of everything comedians like Chapelle do and say. Without it, his show doesn’t really make any sense. It wholly relies on it. Very few of his jokes exist outside of this framework. So, I guess you could say I have the exact opposite impression of NPR’s Eric Deggans who said, “Too often in The Closer, it just sounds like Chappelle is using white privilege to excuse his own homophobia and transphobia.” I don’t know how one even begins to come to such a ridiculously nonsensical conclusion. But it appears that Mr. Deggans is stuck in the same racial feedback loop as Dave Chappelle. Everything must be about group identity. Everything must be about race. Everything.
During the routine, Chappelle also told a joke about making a movie about a group of people who left Earth to go to another planet, things went awful for them there, so they came back and took over the whole Earth. He then went on to say that the film was called Space Jews. Then, toward the end of the show, he told a story about a freed slave who was given land and who then decided to enslave hundreds of black people and treat them horribly. He quipped that a movie was being made about it and the movie was called Space Jews. The apparent point was that a group that was oppressed in the past has now become the oppressors. It is difficult to not see this as an anti-semitic joke, regardless of his actual intentions. If it were a Jewish person telling a joke about a group of aliens who came to Earth, who started robbing and killing a bunch of people, and twerking all over the place and the movie was called Space Blacks would that be considered racist? Would it be funny? I somehow doubt it. There appears to be a clear double standard. But here is the problem. Even if he didn’t actually intend to be anti-semitic and he harbors no animosity toward Jewish people in general, he still perpetuates a toxic ideology that reduces people to a group identity and then pits those identities against each other. There is no other way to take it. The “Space Jews” are the villains in this supposed joke. They are the oppressors in the dichotomy, while black people are the presumed victims. He does this also with feminists and the LGBT movement, neither of which I am personally a fan of. He also went after Asian-Americans. But, the essence of it is that the entire focal point is identity politics and pitting identity groups against each other. That isn’t comedy. It isn’t like it’s satirical as is the case with something akin to Blazing Saddles, which is a comical masterpiece. The identity obsession and subsequent hostility between identity groups is mocked and ridiculed in that film. It is meant to be laughed at, to be exposed as foolishness. It is not reinforced as truth, serving as a reality-based floor on which to build jokes. It is not, in other words, a minstrel show. But that brings up an important question. Isn’t a minstrel show just comedy too? If we are going to split each other into these identity groups and turn each other into group-based caricatures and call it comedy, then there can be no reasonable argument against blackface, can there? I digress.
One of my favorite comedians right now is Brian Regan. The reason I like his comedy so much is because he is able to capture the truth in a hysterical way. I feel like great comedians are able to do that. The things they say are funny because they’re true. As another example, the Babylon Bee is my favorite satire publication. The reason I find it so effective is because it exposes things that are not true in a comical way in order to uncover what is. Truth is at the heart of great comedy. Minstrel shows aren’t based in truth - neither is identity politics.
The feminist and LGBT movements both already engage in this behavior of twisting the truth and pitting identity groups against each other. They both embrace the same weaponry and similarly paint themselves as victims while those “bad groups over there” are the oppressors. Were a feminist to do the same stand-up routine as Chappelle, the Space Jews joke might have been about men. Were a gay activist to do the same routine, the joke might have been about straight people. Were a white supremacist to do the same routine, it might have been about black people. Would it still be comedy? Maybe. Surely, we can joke about men, straight people, and black people without group identity politics and in a way that embraces truth. But once group identity politics is infused, it’s not really a joke anymore. It’s a sermon.
We can see the broken ideology merely in how Chappelle approaches the topic of slavery. Like so many others, he views slavery purely as a racial issue. He delivers the bit as if it is unthinkable for a black man to enslave other people who look like him and treat them horribly after having been enslaved and treated horribly himself. This historical ignorance deserves its own essay to address. Chappelle seems unaware that this sort of thing has been going on for centuries, that this is the exact manner in which African slaves ended up being sold to Europeans in the first place, that there were many black slave owners right here in America, and that even right now, as we speak, there are black people enslaving other black people in Africa. You don’t need to make up a story about it. It literally happened and is happening right now. All throughout history, all manners of people have been both slaves and slave owners. It wasn’t about race. It was about availability. And the idea that the Africans were against slavery is laughable. They weren’t against slavery as an institution. Few people were. They would have just as quickly enslaved other Africans or enslaved the Europeans if they had the opportunity to do so. They just didn’t like being slaves themselves. The lens of racial identity distorts it as some kind of racial betrayal and he extends this analogy to Jewish people as if Jews are, at least in part, now the oppressors of black people. We are supposed to laugh at this? Where is the truth? There is none.
I hope the point here is clear. The obsession with this kind of group identity politics is a vicious cycle of falsehood-driven oppression Olympics. It is a never-ending game of insisting that these arbitrary aspects of ourselves are the most important pieces of our identity and then wielding them like a sword as we go to war against everyone who doesn’t share those features in order to climb to the top of the victimhood hierarchy. The best word I can come up with is enmity, which is defined as a feeling or condition of hostility, hatred, ill will, animosity, or antagonism. This is what is at the crux of the problem. This is what drives actual anti-semitism. This is what drives racism. This is what drives hatred, animosity, and resentment for any perceived out-group or for anyone in the in-group who does not toe the line. I personally experience that animosity daily from other black people who think I am not black enough. I am certain this very article will generate similar racially charged attacks. It is clearly tribalism but it is tribalism that is not just loyalty to or preference for a particular tribe, but one that demands enmity toward others because they are not just another tribe, they are the enemy. You are the victim. They are the oppressor.
While Chapelle does push back on wokeness in many ways, he is ultimately embracing the core tenet of the woke religion, which is that Marxist dichotomy of proletariat and bourgeoisie - victim and oppressor. Maybe he is just playing a trick on the progressive left and forcing them to choose which preferred victim group to rush to the defense of - black people or Jews, black people or LGBT, black people or women, black people or Asians. But even if that were the case, he is still playing their game. Besides, it would be a poorly executed and ineffective trick if that were the case because as I’ve pointed out many times, those who adhere to progressivism don’t actually believe in what they say they do. Hypocrisy is wholly unconcerning to those who bow down to far-left ideology. Chappelle has encountered this already and it was actually evidenced in the show itself when he told the story about his friend, Daphne, who was a man living as a woman, committing suicide after being brutally bullied online. Daphne’s sin was defending Chappelle against attacks and accusations of transphobia. He wasn’t bullied by people who were against transgenderism. He was bullied by progressives. He was bullied by people who are part of or who wholly support transgender ideology. All of the rhetoric about how dangerous it is to bully trans people and how words are literally violence just went straight out of the window. It is toxic tribalism. During the special, there were moments where there seemed to be some understanding about how such obsessive tribalism leads people to do terrible things, but yet, Chappelle reinforces it instead of dismantling it.
Interestingly, back in 2002, Chappelle was in a movie called Undercover Brother where he played a character named Conspiracy Brother. This was another hilarious film that satirizes racial issues. Conspiracy Brother was the type of black person who sees racism literally everywhere. It doesn’t seem as funny these days because this is the entire M.O. of groups like Black Lives Matter and supposed intellectuals like Ibram X. Kendi. Seeing animus and hostility in the mundane and innocuous is what their entire career is built on. People are writing academic essays as we speak on how some word or book or piece of clothing carries a horrific stain of white supremacy. This is their existence. It was also Conspiracy Brother’s whole schtick in the movie. He thought golf balls were racist, thought the phrases “hi” and “good morning” were racist, thought white people were responsible for everything bad that happened - honestly, it almost seems like progressivism uses that film script as a textbook.
We used to make fun of these things. We used to mock these ridiculous positions and foolish attitudes. This wasn’t restricted to conservatives either. This was the political left who satirized the idiocy of putting too much stock in immutable characteristics. The musical Avenue Q beat out Wicked for Best Musical in 2004 even though it has a song called “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” that makes a joke out of stereotypes and taking such things so seriously. What happened? The “Diversity Day” episode of The Office couldn’t be made in 2021. Why? Would Blazing Saddles still be accepted as a classic film? I somehow doubt it. We have reached a point where group identity seems to trump everything. Group identity has taken on religious fervor. It is sacrosanct. Chappelle is critical of the transgender movement but he is doing the exact same thing they are with his approach to racial identity. The funny thing about it is neither of those things is real. They are both illusions. Yet, they are both used as cudgels to attack anyone who does not conform to the stated axioms of the group religion.
During the show, Chappelle pointed out that his friend, Daphne, said something that I thought was very profound. Daphne said, “I just need you to believe that I am having a human experience.” That piece of the show was my favorite part because it speaks to everything I’m talking about here - humanity. Something we have lost along the way is our recognition that other people are human beings. We too often reduce them to their skin color, to their gender, to their sexual preference, or whatever it may be. People too often reduce themselves to these things. We are so much more than that and our value does not lie in these aspects of ourselves. No, I don’t agree with transgenderism and I will not participate in any affirmation of its tenets, but that does not mean that I will deny you empathy and compassion or refuse to see you as a human being.
This, in my opinion, is why individualism is so important. Individualism recognizes that each of us is a unique individual, whereas collectivism sees us as group collectives. If we are to embrace individualism, I cannot possibly act or think or be judged on behalf of black people. When you interact with me, you are not interacting with black people as a whole. You are interacting with me and me alone. If a Jewish person wrongs you, it is not Jews who did it, but it was that person, himself. If a man named Dave tells a terrible joke, we do not assume that all Daves are awful comedians. We see people as the unique individuals that they are and we judge them based on their own individual content of character and not their immutable characteristics. Ayn Rand once said that racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. She was absolutely correct. But this is true for all forms of group hatred and animosity. It is true for all identity group enmity. It is vital that we recognize this. Collectivist ideology leads us down those dark and winding paths that we should always remain wary of and strive to avoid. We must move past this destructive obsession with identity politics and begin to see each other as unique individuals, recognizing that we are all human beings simply having a human experience.