Dave Chappelle, the N word, and context

I was thinking about the Dave Chappelle schedule again this weekend and one thing that really struck me when watching it was Chappelle’s almost constant use of the n word.  Obviously the meaning and implications are very different when a black man like Chappelle uses the word, but it was interesting to realize that, in all the discussions about his Trans commentary, there’s been nary a peep about his language on race.  It seems we’re all perfectly fine listening to a black man use this “unspeakable” racial slur continually throughout his comedy act. 

Here’s the the thing, though.  It seems as if we’ve been told the word is so horrible that it should never be uttered.  Somehow, even just discussing in an entirely intellectual and abstract way if the word should ever be used is enough to get you removed from Slate.  There cannot be a moment of good faith belief that Mike Pesca meant any offense or harbored any racial animus… and yet it cost him his job.  And, presumably, because it is just so horrible to hear this word even uttered, irrespective of context.  (I do appreciate how McWhorter regularly argues that this type of supposedly anti-racist view seems to think very little of the discernment of black people).  And, yet, here’s Chappelle in a moment where he’s getting tons of media coverage for transgressing the woke consensus and nary a peep in the media about his use of the word.  It’s almost like, I don’t know… the context matters.  And, the context is that Chappelle is using the word not as a slur and not with racial animus.  Now, that context is different when a white person uses the word, but it should seem that the key point is not as a slur and not indicating any racial animus.  Now, I’m not advocating we go around saying the word in this way instead of “the n word” as has been adopted.  But when you consider that, until not long ago at all, it was considered quite okay to do so— when it was clear there was no racial animus involved— it strikes me as little more than performative wokeism to completely ignore Chappelle and argue that Mike Pesca or Donald McNeil should be out of their jobs.  And yet, here we are.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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