Last night Chris Rock had an almost impossible feat in front of him—tackle Hollywood’s diversity problem while making them recognize their capitulation to the status quo of whiteness, which is the entire industry.
Many called from the rafters for Rock to boycott, but like he said in his opening, the show was going to happen with or without him.
Countless headlines this morning, namely the New York Daily News’s “Chris Went Too Far,” commented that jokes about lynching went just a step over the line and made folks uncomfortable. Making the room uncomfortable was kind of the entire point. What’s funny is nothing Rock mentioned about America’s history of lynching was a lie—it was instead painfully true.
In an age when we have a presidential candidate refusing to rebuke the KKK because he doesn’t have “enough information” on their terrorist structure, I don’t think that reminding an audience about our country’s darkest moments is wrong, in fact it seems right on time.
Let’s be clear, “political correctness” is dead and gone and rarely applied to jokes unless they were of the overt and hurtful variety; which Rock’s monologue wasn’t. Where he did stray into tasteless territory however was with the bit on Asian Americans. Pitting one marginalized group against another is simply wrong—none of us deserve to be the butt of anyone’s joke.
What’s frustrating about the attention Rock’s hosting gig is getting is that we seem to be holding the comedian’s monologue to harsher scrutiny than we do the bench of presidential hopefuls. The media has been laughing with Trump for months now even as his rhetoric veered further and further away from the absurd and became increasingly dangerous; yet, it’s Chris Rock’s humorous take on the effects of racism that we find cringe worthy?
It begs the question: what, if any real appetite America has for truth telling about racism? Eight years ago we were so desperate to become post-racial, we thought the election of a black president would place us in the HOV lane of equality without having to patch any of the deep seeded pot holes that remained untouched on the road.
To be fair, at times Chris Rock’s Oscar appearance — like this entire presidential cycle — was indeed bumpy and hard to watch.
The image conjured by hearing the line, “When your grandmother is swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short,” made my stomach drop for sure—because to some extent he was right. Except sadly, while we may not be hanging from trees anymore we are laying in the streets riddled with bullet holes.
So, to say that we can’t protest the exclusion from the arts and at the same time protest other aspects of marginalization to our personhood simply isn’t true. Dealing with racism isn’t an “and/or” proposition. We have to be able to handle all aspects of the white patriarchal system at the same time. Racism isn’t relegated to just one industry or one place; its roots and influence are everywhere, which means our vigilance is universally required.
Chris Rock did the best balancing routine he could, teetering between History of Racism 101 professor and comedian. He did what he had to do; which was add more fuel to Hollywood’s fire and hopefully burn up their preconceived ideas of whose images and representation matter.
We are living in serious times with real problems on the line. Chris Rock’s opening monologue and following skits’ laugh-ability may be debatable, what’s not however, is the state of our politics and America’s moral compass.
Let’s just hope that the rest of America doesn’t look like Stacy Dash come Election Day—clueless and the butt of the Republican’s most terrifying joke.