Monday, December 1, 2014

Chris Rock: "There are no race relations" in America

Really great comedians are keen observers. They don't simply go for the easy laugh line. Instead they tend to see things that are true, but haven't been captured by conventional wisdom, and make us laugh by pointing them out. Such was the case when Stephen Colbert gave us the word truthiness to define the politics of the Bush/Cheney era.

Chris Rock has always struck me as a great comedian for just that reason. He is a keen observer of race in America and has developed some wisdom about that issue that is often miles ahead of those who intellectualize about it.

With his movie Take Five about to premier, Chris was interviewed by Frank Rich and mentioned that he'd love to be a 60 Minutes reporter. As such, he'd be in Ferguson right now doing a special on race...with no black people.
When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before...

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
You see what he did there? He put both the pathology of racism and the responsibility for change right where it belongs. Even suggesting that black people have made "progress" when it comes to race relations implies that they were the problem to begin with.

I'm sure there are those who would challenge what Chris said about white people not being as crazy as they used to be when it comes to race - especially in light of the reaction to Ferguson. They'd have a point. In many ways the crazy never went away, it just got harder to see and/or name over the last 40 years. But lately the confederate insurgency has re-surfaced with a vengeance. If we're going to move forward this time, white people are going to have to decide whether or not we want to stay crazy.


  1. He is very insightful, and I think surely correct.

  2. That is a powerful observation indeed! Good for him making clear that it's the aggressors who have made some, not enough, progress! Stunning in its clarity!


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