Last Saturday, Netflix debuted Chris Rock’s comedy special entitled ‘Selective Outrage,’ the network’s first broadcast streamed in real-time. And while Rock talked about a range of topics including popular events, celebrities in the news, America’s alleged addiction to attention, and of course, Will, Jada, and the slap, I learned the most about Chris Rock.
The slap and Rock’s response have both been litigated across social media for nearly a year, with an overflow of think pieces. But now is as good a time as any to chronical how we got here and reflect on what Chris Rock has been telling us about himself from the beginning.
Chris Rock’s original joke during last year’s Oscars, where he compared Jada’s hair style to GI Jane’s, wasn’t offensive at face value. It really wasn’t. A petty get-back from award shows past? Sure. But not malicious. In fact, the practice of joaning on members of the audience has been employed by comedians and emcees for decades.
Def Comedy Jam, anyone?
And Jada’s hairstyle, a buzz cut, did actually resemble that of GI Jane, AKA Demi Moore. And she was beautiful too *shoulder shrug*.
I also did believe Chris Rock when he said he didn’t know about Jada’s alopecia. And as someone who also has alopecia, inherited from my mother, I don’t understand why the social media outrage has portrayed this common condition as a severe disability, requiring ill-placed sympathy. Further, while not seeking to minimize any of Jada’s insecurities, she has always rocked a short cut and exuded confidence in her beauty (at least from the outside looking in).
So Jada’s new lower haircut didn’t seem like some grand public reveal.
The Thick of Things
I do not think Chris Rock has a problem with Black women. And I loathe the phrase ‘punching down’. It’s annoying. As is the way social media enables folks to jump on a dance, a song, a phrase, any trend, and abuse it.
But overall, the ‘Outrage’ special still left a horrible taste in my mouth.
Not because of the delayed response to ‘the slap’ because revenge has no expiration. Nor because the B-word was tossed around liberally. Again, I’m from the Def Comedy Jam, Eddie Murphy Raw era.
But my contempt is solely due to Rock’s cringe-inducing content, tone, and overall delivery that had the stench of Bill Cosby’s respectability politics, with a side of The Mis-Education of the Negro, and a pinch and a dash of a modern day minstrel show.
No, I don’t think Chris Rock hates black women, specifically.
I think, instead, his comedy special shone a light on his deep seated shame and hatred for black people as a whole. A self-hatred that presented itself as a weird, constant undertone of a coon-adjacent caricature that attempted to give both the well-meaning and patently racist faction of White America a pass. A license, even, to continue to look down on and make racist jokes about Blacks, without the guilt.
And this is all against the backdrop of my vivid memory of Chris Rock sitting silently amongst, and almost in support of, several White comedians as they negligently slung around the N-word in his presence in 2011.
A friend recently told me that Chris Rock has always made comedy for White people who want to believe they don’t have an issue with Black people. Looking at his full body of work, I’m now inclined to believe this assessment.
A year ago, I felt sympathy for Chris Rock.
Following the special, I simply feel ashamed of him.