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Chappelle, Foxworthy, Foxyworthy, Chappelle

August 10, 2006

AC asked awhile back about whether or not white people could discuss “race honestly,” a question that though rhetorical and full of assumptions, can be answered. Yes, white people can discuss race honestly, however that doesn’t always mean talking about the ills of the whiny minority that you lot just wish would shut up.

This discussion going on over at Aunt B.’s place is a good example of what I was talking about. She asks the question whether calling a white person “white trash” or “redneck” is racist. The discussion is about sub-culture and identity and language, however it is also about what it means to be white in the South. Some commenters dip in and out and around that issue, still that seems to me to be what is at play.

Of course it wasn’t long before analogies were drawn between the N-word and the epithets that are on topic. Some one also (erroneously) mentioned Dave Chappelle as one who makes distinctions between N-words and black people (it was actually Chris Rock who made it famous, but god knows he wasn’t the first). Then cornpone comic Jeff Foxworthy enters into the discussion, as someone who made a similar (though if I recall far less explicit) distinction between rednecks and white people.

African-Americans in the main saw Chappelle as a hero, and found his humor to be poking fun at the way African Americans are perceived not as they really are.** Rock, no hero he, was quietly lauded for the distinction but some perhaps found the line he drew too stark. Foxworthy just always seemed to me to be poking fun at “rednecks.” Was Foxworthy a cultural critic in disguise? Was this guy intending to be Mark Twain, stabbing at stereotypes with the hopes of erasing them?

**I never bought that argument completely. I think he was trying to point out, on occasion, some stupid things that tend to happen in the African American community, however he rarely made strong links between the maladaptive stuff he pointed a finger at and the root causes. I think his decision to quit the show because he felt uncomfortable with what he was doing supports my position.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2006 10:57 pm

    Because of the flack he took, and the appropriation by white folks of the routine as legitimizing their inner monologue, Rock no longer performs the bit in question.

  2. bridgett permalink
    August 11, 2006 8:58 am

    Since you were going to talk about cultural appropriation…care to take a whack at the cultural appropriation/culture mining argument as it pertains to Appalachia? Foxworthy and the Cable Guy are just two of the more prominent examples in the humor industry. Nashville’s made its money turning farmgirls from Oklahoma and Illinois into hillbilly princesses and truck drivers from Mississippi into white trash kings. And Appalachia has? Anger without power, consumption without without control of the product, a conspired silence about the collective past and an exhausted imagination of the future…and so it succumbs to self-parody, awash in the trash of capitalism but held outside history as the price of its inclusion into the national consciousness.

    It’s not quite Love and Theft. But there is something in play there, as you say.

  3. saraclark permalink
    August 11, 2006 9:52 am

    Very good comments. You might be on to something with the Foxworthy/Twain comparison. I think that’s what he would like to be, whether or not that’s what he is.

    You nailed the description with the word “percieved” about Chapelle show and I think what made the show funny was that he parodied what some people thought but didn’t say. For my dad (being of a different generation) he took it literally and was buying in to the “stereotype” and missed the parody. I completely understood why Dave got upset with the mass marketing and popularity of his message that was possibly coming out 50/50 instead of 100%.

    I think Dave Chappelle is busy defining his own culture and celebrating it rather than just taking the version of culture that he was given. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s painful to watch. I just hope he sticks it out and I look forward to seeing where he is in 10 years. It has worked for Foxworthy.

  4. August 11, 2006 10:23 am

    Bridgett, I might take a try at incorporating the Appalachian question into what I’ve written. The racial essentialists will fight the inclusion of it (Appalachians are white and being white they are part of the greater American oppresive culture). My first thought is that the argument that Appalachian culture does suffer from cultural appropriation if you use the term in the narrower (and what I’d argue original) meaning rather than the broad one that is popular now.

    saraclark, thanks for the props. I think your father’s perceptions of the show were exactly what Dave came to fear. If I may brag about a brush with greatness, he lived in the same neighborhood as my best friend in the early 90’s. We’d see him live and he’d sit at our table and chat. He was nice, not in the obsequious “celebrity nice” and quite, not in the “sullen celebrity” way.

    Sarcastro, always the fountain of knowledge.

  5. bridgett permalink
    August 11, 2006 11:19 am

    Yeah, I can see that. But as the discussion over at B’s would suggest, whiteness is not really as durable a privilege as racial essentialists would have it be. That’s the paradox of race, right? It’s real and apparent, it’s fictive and unstable, it’s everywhere and nowhere, it’s genetic or cultural or both or neither, commodity or identity or both or neither…

    And not all Appalachians are white, friend. But you knew that.

  6. August 11, 2006 2:06 pm

    Satirically, Steve Carrell hit it right on the head on the “Diversity Day” episode of “The Office,” when he was the only one who couldn’t understand what was wrong with him doing the Chris Rock routine.

    The irony of him trying to defend himself because only he has Chris Rock’s sense of comedic timing is brilliant.

    To me, any attempt to try to explain what another ethnicity “should feel” or “shouldn’t be offended by” deserves, at best a lot of eye-rolling and at worst, a punch in the throat.

  7. August 11, 2006 3:26 pm

    Don’t forget our Appalachian cousins, the Melungeons.

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