Chris Rock Crosses the Line?
Summer’s a hard time for a blog, especially one run by guys who are still pursuing degrees and such. There are always things that get in the way of writing, and I’ve lost the opportunity to write on great topics because I just haven’t had the time or the will. But a minor controversy today gave me a shot of energy to write something, mostly because it spawned a pretty epic conversation on twitter between me, Actor Adam Baldwin (of no relation to the Baldwin Brothers), and a few Conservative tweeters. Basically, Chris Rock, after a long illustrious career of rude and sometimes offensive jokes, has finally managed to cross the line. A tweet he wrote saying “”Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks,” was pretty quickly pounced upon by many in social media, who called him unpatriotic and such. A few, such as Baldwin and the folks I argued with, called him a racist. It was all ridiculous to me, and I argued that his tweet was pretty much just a statement of history and no cause for alarm. Me supporting him ended up with an hour long debate with quite a bit of revisionist history thrown in there, and I think it’s something I can blog about now.
To begin, I love America, and I’m pretty sure Chris Rock loves it too. I want to live here and I think this is the best place for me. However, American doctrine as a whole deems any questioning of America’s “greatness” or exposing its flaws (especially the flaws of the White men who founded it) as “unpatriotic.” So anyone who says America couldn’t have always been the absolute greatest place in the world for everyone due to the fact that it oppressed minorities and women for far longer than other Western countries is labeled unpatriotic. Anyone who doesn’t celebrate Independence Day with unquestioning fervor is labeled as such as well. It stymies any real debate about the very real things that are wrong with this country and how to fix them. No wonder our government is so stagnant, when every politician has to constantly reaffirm American “greatness,” which means sometimes turning a blind eye on the things that make us not-so-great. Is this the “greatest country on Earth” for any number of the oppressed peoples here or the people who die because they don’t have health insurance? Before I get too Newsroom-y, I just think that the highest level of love is providing critical reflection on its highs and its lows. And I think Chris Rock, while his tweet was a bit bitter and cynical, and didn’t touch enough on good things (a whole lot to do in 140 characters), was providing part of that critical reflection.
In short, our ancestors weren’t free for a long while after the Declaration. In fact, abolition and universal suffrage in the United States came much later than in all other Western countries, despite the claims of many that freedom was “invented” here. For slaves, other minorities, and many women, what happened on July 4th, 1776 was just a changing of hands of the yoke. In response to Chris Rock’s tweet and my support, Baldwin and others began perhaps the most striking campaign of revisionist history and convenient colorblindness that I’ve ever seen. They argued that Chris Rock was racist in bringing this up and that we should celebrate Independence Day because those liberated American White people “gave us our freedom.” Hell, Baldwin even argued that we should embrace the liberation of Whites because ”White America has always fought against slavery and racism.” Wow. Never mind who they were fighting against, or who enslaved Black people in the first place. Never mind that other countries without such a grand entrance into the world of “freedom” outlawed both the slave trade and slavery well before the US did (including the Great Oppressor, Great Britain). They said to thank White people because they fought to free us. We should be blindly grateful to the slave-owning Founding Fathers and such because eventually the slaves were freed. Right. One guy even said America is great because it only took us a century to end slavery after our inception. Yep.
Now look, like I said, I love this place. I am grateful for the Declaration because it did lay the philosophical foundation down for freedom worldwide, despite taking longest to actually take hold in the very country where it was written. I am grateful for White abolitionists over the years, and for champions of Civil Rights, and for many of our great Presidents who have made racial progress possible. I am grateful for White friends and family, and I know that most of the White people I know are fair-minded and all about equality. But let’s stop the White-washing of history alright? Post-racial society and philosophy makes it so that anyone who brings up historical inequities or injustices is the one who is racist. “We are all equal” now and “We don’t see race,” so anyone who brings it up must be the racist. But that’s not how things work in reality. Things aren’t the same for everyone in the country. Chris Rock grew up as part of a generation where race-based segregation was real law. Racism is still alive and well, and it’s the descendant of slavery and the injustices of the past. While, of course, White folks today are no more responsible for the actions of slaveowners than I am bound physically by the chains of slaves, the legacy persists, and enough time hasn’t gone by to suggest otherwise. Minorities still suffer from policies and realities built from racism. Women still suffer discrimination and sexual violence and are paid less. People among the LGBTQ spectrum are still persecuted. And people within the White male hegemony still benefit from those injustices, whether they espouse racism or not.
I celebrate the 4th because it was the birth of an idea that can be used today to fix what’s wrong in this place, and in SPITE of the fact that the country oppressed so many people in direct opposition of that founding idea. That all men are actually created equal. I think Chris Rock would say the same. He wasn’t the most eloquent, and perhaps such a sensitive topic would have been better approached with a more serious and thoughtful tweet. But this is the guy who did “Niggas vs Black People.” Come on.