Dave Chappelle on SNL and Jews

“I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world but you can’t blame that on Black Americans. You just can’t.”

Dave Chappelle in his SNL monologue, Nov. 12, 2022

Chappelle got one quiet whoop and dead silence when he said that. He thanked the person for the whoop. I’ve heard people say on line that the silence was telling.

It wasn’t. I’ve never met a Jew who blamed the terrible things we’ve been through on Black Americans. With all due respect to Mr. Chappelle, and in his case I respect him a whole lot, one Hell of a lot, for a whole lot of reasons, that’s crap.

He talked a lot about Jews in his monologue, basically pointing out that saying nasty stuff about us is more dangerous than saying nasty stuff about other minorities. He also talked about how Hollywood is heavily Jewish, an emphasis he repeated, and said that some people might connect the dots, though connecting those dots isn’t necessarily valid. And he talked about how making generalizations about Jews was less acceptable than making generalizations about Italians or Blacks, saying that in Jews’ case it’s all viewed as coincidences. As he started out on this topic, he says he learned early on that there were two words one did not say in sequence, and those words are “the” and “Jews.”

I’m glad saying those words in sequence is unacceptable. Of course I also don’t say “the” in sequence with “Blacks” or “gays” because to do so is to make generalizations based on belonging to a minority, and making negative generalizations about people based on their minority membership is precisely what bigotry is. Yes, Jews are unusually organized when it comes to bigotry but that’s because we have such long experience with it and we have experience with where it can go and how quickly. We’ve seen populations turn on us very quickly, emphatically including in places we felt safe and places to which we were extremely loyal.

As regards Hollywood, yes, it’s heavily Jewish. That’s no surprise; the film industry was developed there by a bunch of ex-vaudeville Jews making silent pictures. Hollywood is heavily Jewish for the same reason that Broadway is: Entertainment was a field Jews were allowed into, like retail was. We weren’t in the fields that were critical to the country: energy, telecommunications, transportation, steel, chemicals, military hardware, agriculture. We were vaudevillians and peddlers who developed the movie and television industries and got big in major retail. We’re not there because of a conspiracy; we’re there because we built the industry.

It doesn’t take coordination to turn on someone who turns on us. Doing something antisemitic, like Mel Gibson did, will offend a whole lot of Jews independently and, when an industry is heavily Jewish, that will look coordinated. The dots don’t need connecting. If you offend enough dots you’ll get the same result.

Chappelle was comparing two cases: that of Kanye and that of Kyrie Irving, a basketball player who published a link online to a film with antisemitic content. Chappelle understood what happened to Kanye and approved of it but thought that Irving got caught in Kanye’s storm. It bothered Chappelle that as Irving was slow to apologize the list of demands for him to return to playing started to grow. And it is here that he said what I quoted at the top.

If you spread antisemitic content there should be consequences. This has nothing to do with being Black. If Chappelle’s contention is that being Black should give one any kind of immunity on this, I disagree. I don’t care who takes an ethnic shot at me, it’s an ethnic shot and should be treated as one, and if someone is slow to apologize for one there’s a reason for that. On the other hand, an ethnic shot is a matter of individual responsibility, not group responsibility. If Kanye and Irving both come down on Jews in some way within a short amount of time, this is not cause to hold their ethnicity responsible for their actions. If that is Chappelle’s contention then I agree with it.

He has Jewish friends, a lot of them, among them Jon Stewart, who warns that censorship would not be an effective response to this. I agree with him; it would not be. There may be things Chappelle is not keeping track of, having no reason to. He might not be aware that wearing a skullcap on a lot of college and university campuses can get one abused at the moment or that we are the only minority whom it is politically correct to abuse, under the guise of antizionism. Of course a skullcap doesn’t indicate that one is Israeli. It indicates that one is Jewish.  While this and the antisemitism unleashed by Trump’s approval of bigotry has increased drastically in recent years, Jews are of course more sensitive than usual to antisemitism because at the moment antisemitism poses more risks. I doubt that if Chappelle ever goes to church there is an armed police presence outside to protect the worshippers but as a Jew I worship like that now if the service is well attended.

When it comes to Black people Chappelle doesn’t want Jews to become part of the problem. Spreading antisemitic tropes on shared content does not constitute Jews becoming part of the problem, it constitutes the sharer becoming part of our problem. Don’t blame us for reacting to attacks. We have to. We know damned well we have no choice. This isn’t about power, it’s about survival.