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Dave Chappelle’s Surprise “8:46” Special Questions the Role of Public Figures in Social Justice Movements

Alla Issa

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Comedian, Dave Chappelle, wearing an all black outfit, sitting on a stool, while presenting his take on the black lives matter movement.
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Dave Chappelle, the highly renowned and notoriously reclusive comedian, surprised fans (and perhaps the whole country) when Netflix released an unexpected special on their platform in the late hours of June 12th.

The special, titled “8:46,” was also posted on platforms such as Youtube and Facebook soon after. Though only 27 minutes in length, Chappelle’s special covers topics relating to George Floyd’s tragic murder by a police officer and the upheaval of the nation that followed it, including the Black Lives Matter protests that happened in all 50 states and in many countries around the world. 

Chappelle is no stranger to social commentary, and he usually executes sets that revolve around critiquing (and mocking) social customs and entire identity groups with confidence and credence.

However, in the special, he appears to be noticeably distraught throughout the entirety of the performance. There are fewer jokes than there are emotional bursts that loop into purposeful digressions. “This isn’t funny at all,” Chappelle notes at one point, recognizing the weight of the subject matter and the lack of comedy in what is supposed to be a comedian’s special, but he does not offer any apologies.

Instead, he devotes long moments of his monologue to commenting on the media coverage following George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests, and he focuses on criticizing conservative commentators such as Candace Owens and Laura Inghram, who minimize issues of racial injustice and police brutality.

Chappelle takes a particular interest in responding to CNN’s Don Lemon, who famously called for celebrities to use their platforms to speak out about the death of George Floyd.

Lemon criticizes some celebrities, by name, for staying silent in an effort to protect their “brand.” He claims that each public figure with a platform has a responsibility to put out a statement, publicly support the protesters on their social media accounts, and avoid being silent on issues of police brutality and public protest.

Chappelle disagrees. He insists that he doesn’t need to speak—that no celebrity needs to speak—lest they risk having their voices be heard over the sound of the publicly led protests. He further implies that the public, especially those protesting in the streets around the country and the world, don’t benefit much from celebrities giving their personal opinions on these issues.

Comedian, Dave Chappelle, wearing an all black outfit, sitting on a stool, holding a microphone.
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Chappelle poses the following question regarding our priorities: “Why would anyone care what their favorite comedian thinks after they saw a police officer kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds?”

Chappelle admonished against the idea that he should “step in front of the streets and talk over the work these people are doing.”

Chappelle has a point—not only would shifting the focus from the protesters on the streets to the celebrities in their homes be detrimental to the overall progress of the Black Lives Matter movement, but we also shouldn’t care about what celebrities have to say, unless their actions are backing up their supposed “beliefs.”

Chappelle’s critique of the “silence is violence” mindset in regard to social justice movements comes at a time when we see more and more celebrities being criticized, perhaps rightfully so, for not educating themselves on social issues and publicly advocating for them. “I kept my mouth shut,” he says, “and I’ll still keep my mouth shut, but don’t think that my silence is complicit.” 

While there is room for valid criticism for those who are willfully ignorant, the insistent calls for everyone to speak out about racial injustice and police brutality have led more public figures to stumble and fall than to uplift the cause.

Take, for instance, the case of Madonna, who posted a tweet of her (black) adopted son dancing to a Michael Jackson song in order to “honor” George Floyd, or that of David Guetta, who faced backlash for remixing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as a tribute to George Floyd, or any of the other dozens of celebrities who have been mocked for their subpar, and sometimes outright offensive, responses to George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests.

The truth of the matter is that when we pressure public figures who have very little knowledge about these social justice movements to become outspoken advocates for them, we are opening ourselves up to, at best, confusion and disappointment and, at worst, outrage.

Comedian, Dave Chappelle, wearing a black leather jacket and glasses waves his hands in the air in front of a black car outside.
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Even when the celebrity is educated on the subject matter, there is a time and place for Twitter notepad statements and Instagram black square posts. “The streets are talking for themselves,” Chappelle says. “They don’t need me right now.”

This is not to say that we should have zero expectations for the role of public figures in social justice movements, nor that every celebrity is stumbling in their response.

There have been plenty of celebrities who have utilized their platforms to uplift black voices, who have been on the streets protesting and/or have provided aid to those protesting, and who have donated large sums of money to memorial funds, legal aid organization, bailout funds, and other organizations that are on the frontlines of fighting police brutality and racial injustice.

Even though he has always been outspoken about racial injustice and police brutality, Chappelle is right when he states that the protesters don’t need him right now—they don’t need him or any other celebrity to speak empty words into the echo-chamber of similar thought that is the social media scene in the time of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement.

What they need is direct action, all of the time, not just when speaking out about these injustices in trendy ways, or when it is expected of them; they need support that has some weight behind it—that of educated advocacy, physical presence that does not center around their status, and their money and influence being levied in ways that will lead to notable change.

Above all, celebrities need to know their limits. A movement that began centered around the people should always have “normal” people at its center—it should never devolve into celebrity figureheads leading their followers to a victory (or demise) when their lack of education makes them blind to the actual impact of their actions.

Ultimately, “8:46” offers the audience a chance to reassess their priorities when it comes to the ways in which they wish to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and what they realistically can and should expect from some of the most visible people in the world.

The message at the core of “8:46” is that we shouldn’t even care what Dave Chappelle has to say right now; we should care about what the people marching in the streets, organizing protests every day, and leading legal and social battles to address racial injustice have to say.

Though there is a certain level of irony in Chappelle’s claims that he “kept [his] mouth shut and will continue to keep [his] mouth shut” when he has dedicated an entire special to George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests, Chappelle’s dedication to centering the actions of those physically protesting is enough to excuse it. “I am very proud of you,” he says. “You kids are excellent drivers. I am comfortable in the back seat of the car.”

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How the Coronavirus is Shaping the 2020 Election

Ian Wentzlaff

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Elderly woman in a white long sleeve shirt, mask, carrying a black purse with her as she walks outside

2020, a year already destined to be recorded as one of the most bizarre times in recent history, adds another layer of intrigue in November: the presidential election will take place in the midst of a deadly pandemic sweeping across the globe.

Voters across the country are entering uncharted territory this fall; individual health concerns about contracting coronavirus will lead many to vote by mail for the first time.

Coronavirus has afflicted nearly every part of the world, but the United States in particular has felt its ravaging effects. The U.S. has accounted for over 200 thousand of the 1.15 million deaths related to coronavirus worldwide.

Another way of thinking about this: one out of every five people killed by the virus was an American citizen. This statistic weighs heavily on the minds of voters in the upcoming election, as the decision to vote traditionally or by mail needs to be made.

There is much confusion surrounding mail-in ballots, and rumors about the likelihood of voter fraud abound. The reality is that voter fraud of any kind is extremely rare in the United States. This extends to mail-in voting.

Causing more confoundment is the fact that voting regulations vary from state to state. Places like Hawaii, where mail-in ballots have been the norm for some time, will presumably have little trouble implementing this method again in this election.

On the flip side, a state like Alabama that only allows voters to register for absentee ballots may find the increased number of mailed-in votes difficult to process.

Yet another wrinkle in the mail-in ballot complex is the necessitation of so-called secrecy envelopes that are required by some states. Further, any vote cast via mail without a said envelope, which are sometimes called “naked ballots,” may not be counted.

However, the need for secrecy envelopes ceased to exist when mail-in ballots began being counted at a separate location from the public polling places, thus eliminating the need for secrecy.

These regulations may deter some voters from opting for a mail-in ballot this election. However, others may fear that the risk of contracting a deadly virus is too great at public polling locations, where thousands of people will congregate.

The virus’s recent resurgence in Europe has led many experts to predict that the United States will also see a spike in the number of cases very soon. This second wave may hit just in time for the election, and that unfortunate timing only adds to the existing fears of voters.

In this upcoming election, no matter which political party you align with or which candidate you prefer in the White House, vote in whichever way makes you the most comfortable.

If the risk of contracting coronavirus frightens you, know that all states are required to allow absentee ballots, and most states support general mail-in voting. Make sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s voting regulations, and most importantly: VOTE!

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Tragic Chicago Shootings Shed Light on Gun Violence

Eunice Park

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A big crowd of people protesting outside of a building against gun violence, while one person wearing a hat carries a sign saying, "Choose KIDS over guns".
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It is absolutely heartbreaking that in the midst of various social movements and a global pandemic, there have been several shootings in Chicago this past week alone. There have been unsolicited and unwarranted attacks resulting in many endangered lives.

With two pronounced dead and more than 47 innocent civilians wounded, this resurgence of gun violence must be addressed immediately and thoroughly.

Although the right to bear arms is instated in the U.S. Constitution, the time for Americans to reconsider the Second Amendment has long been overdue. If anything, we’ve become numb to these events; after countless shootings throughout the past couple years, gun violence is no longer an active topic of discussion.

The lack of conversation around the topic of gun violence is where the problem lies, but it doesn’t have to be this way. People don’t have to accept these dangerous situations or weapons into the U.S. culture and society any longer. People have the power and the right to promote greater change and come to a more agreeable solution.

It is time to weigh some of the moral pros and cons of eradicating the Second Amendment.

Pros and Cons of Enacting More Gun Control Laws

A big crowd of people, majority wearing hats, protest outside of a building against gun violence.
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1. PRO:

It is not an unlimited right to own guns. The Second Amendment states that only those who are “fit” to own a gun should purchase one, and it does not support the “possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

Laws that require a permitting process have also been maintained, but could become more strict. This would essentially reduce the number of people eligible to purchase firearms, and hopefully reduce the amount of unforeseeable casualties due to gun violence.

CON:

The Second Amendment also protects the right to individual gun ownership, even if the owner is unconnected with service in the militia. This means that tougher gun control laws would infringe upon the right to bear arms in self-defense, and would therefore deny people a sense of safety.

The police cannot protect everybody at all times. This right dates back longer than some of America’s oldest traditions, and it is these traditions that are the most difficult to change.

A lady with short grey hair wearing a pink sweater and a man wearing a beige shirt carry a sign saying, "This gun owner demands background checks."
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2. PRO:

More gun control laws would reduce gun-related deaths. Between 1999 and 2016, there were a total of 572,537 gun-related deaths: 33,579 were suicides (58.8% of total gun-related deaths); 213,175 were homicides (37.2%); and 11,428 were unintentional deaths (2.0%).

Firearms are also the second leading cause of death for children, with motor vehicle accidents taking first place. Implementing universal federal background checks may be able to reduce firearm deaths by a projected 56.9%. The more gun control laws are enacted, the fewer unnecessary and violent deaths there will be.

CON:

Gun control laws do not deter crime; they deter gun ownership. A study showed that assault weapon bans did not significantly affect murder rates.

These criminals do not, and will not, presumably, obey gun control laws. Resolving the issue of the misuse of firearms will take more than another law enactment; it would require a deep uprooting of future generations’ educations and, consequently, banning the right to bear arms.

3. PRO:

More gun control laws and/or the banishment of firearms will help protect women from domestic abusers and stalkers. Five women are murdered every day in the U.S. by firearms. A woman’s chances of getting murdered increases by 500% if a gun is present during a domestic dispute. Statistics show that between 2001 and 2012, 6,410 women were killed with a gun by an intimate partner in the United States.

CON:

However, not every gun owner is abusive or has negative intentions. Many own guns for recreational purposes. Gun control laws, especially ones that try to ban “assault weapons,” would consequently infringe upon the right to own guns for hunting and sport.

Under the pretense that all hunters are clear-headed and would never turn a gun onto a person, this would be doing the population a massive disservice and inevitably cause more political issues. In 2011, there were 13.7 million hunters in the United States who were 16 years old or older, and they spent $7.7 billion on guns, sights, ammunition, and other hunting equipment.

A giant gun statue with the barrel tied into a knot, in front of a gray building.
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4. PRO:

Gun control laws would reduce the societal costs associated with gun violence. 100,000 Americans who have been shot generate nearly $3 billion in emergency room and hospital charges, and this is excluding the charges of a taken life. With all of this combined, implementing more gun control laws would be doing a massive service to the people, both physically and financially.

CON:

When implementing more gun control laws, there will always be some other type of infringement that follows. Gun control law regulations, such as background checks, ID checks, and micro-stamping, are seen as an “invasion of privacy,” which would go against the Fourth Amendment.

In order to do a thorough background check, the use of a government database that holds all personal information, such as addresses, mental health history, family, and more, would be required.

There are many more pros and cons to gun control laws that are easily accessible on the web, but the recent Chicago shooting has reminded us of one thing: gun control is an important part of the U.S. society and should be taken seriously. 

The Second Amendment is interconnected with other rights stated in the Constitution. As shown, enacting more gun control laws in an effort to reduce gun violence incidents is difficult, and by doing so, it also affects other rights and concerns.

To find a real solution, preserve all life, and respect all rights, the leaders of this country must not only reconsider the Second Amendment alone, but also the entire Constitution.

May those affected by the tragic Chicago shootings find peace and continue to protest against gun violence. At some point in the unforeseeable future, a way to put these travesties to an end will be found.

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How Climate Justice Equals Social Justice and Vice Versa

Hannah Frankel

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A man with a hat and green shirt and a backpack holding a bike, three other people, walking through a flooded parking lot.
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“What is intersectional environmentalism? This is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront, and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet.”

~ Leah Thomas (via Intersectional Environmentalist)

With climate change raging ahead at a pace much faster than environmental progress, many of those who are concerned for the future of the planet also feel a sense of urgency to make substantial and lasting change in order to reverse the ways in which humans have destroyed our collective home.

The planet Earth on an orange background with animated hands of people with different skin tones.
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Although academia has attempted to evolve in order to fight back against the growing threat to the health of our planet, it is clear that we, as an environmentalist community, are not making the progress necessary to undo current damages.

Furthermore, there is a harmful tendency in the environmentalist community to be so hyper-focused on climate justice that all other forms of social justice are neglected.

Environmentalists, as an activist community, cannot ignore the fact that marginalized, low-income communities are the first to be negatively affected by environmental injustice. Furthermore, we, as human beings, cannot expect to advance in global sustainability if institutions of higher education are dominated by sexism, racism, and prejudice.

This is not even to mention that low-income, marginalized communities are often blamed for destroying the planet via overpopulation and poor waste management strategies. However, according to Oxfam’s “Extreme Carbon Inequality” report, people belonging to the richest 1% of the globe’s population use, on average, 175% more carbon than someone from the poorest 10%.

Although social justice causes like gender and race equality seem completely different from climate justice, movements such as ecofeminism have arisen from the belief that all forms of oppression are connected, or are symptoms of the same disease.

If we, as a society, accept that humans have the right to dominate and use nature however we see fit, regardless of the consequences, this way of thinking may lead people to believe that certain members of society have the right to dominate others perceived as “lesser.”

As long as we live in societies dominated by inequality, the ruling class can always take advantage of and damage those with less agency, like women, minorities, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and, even, the environment.

“Intersectional environmentalism” is a term coined by environmentalist Leah Thomas, and it stresses the importance of protecting both humans and the environment from injustice. This movement does not only stress that both ecojustice and social justice are important — it also signals that developments or defeats in one category affect the other.

A sign in a desert that contain green and black text saying "ENTER: COVID-19 TESTING", followed by a note with a construction worker on the far right.
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Take the current COVID-19 crisis, for example. We may not know for sure that the emergence of the virus is an environmental issue; however, we do know that climate change will set off other crises related to food production and the frequency and severity of natural disasters.

The coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected people of color and poorer communities in America. Marginalized communities all over the world take the brunt of the harm during global crises such as this.

For example, the WHO reported that a hurricane that hit Bangladesh in 1991 killed 140,000 people, 90% of whom were women. Relief worker Rasheda Begum attributes this disproportionate loss of female lives to the rigid social structures that hold male lives above those of women and mandate women to protect their children and property at all costs, thus prohibiting them from evacuating.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, largely affecting impoverished communities that could not afford to evacuate the area in time. These communities, which were made up of largely poor, Black individuals, were left to battle a Category 3 storm without an adequate federal support system.

Mark Naison, a professor of African American studies at Fordham University, has since asked, “Is this what the pioneers of the civil rights movement fought to achieve, a society where many Black people are as trapped and isolated by their poverty as they were by segregation laws?”

Fast forward 15 years to today. We are seeing some of the very same racial and economic factors putting low-income persons of color and indigenous ancestry at a heightened risk of dying from COVID-19.

Due to the high presence of comorbidities and lack of access to adequate healthcare, these groups of people, along with those over the age of 70, are the ones primarily being sacrificed by America’s inadequate response to the global pandemic.

Continuing to exploit the environment by perpetuating reliance on non-renewable energy sources, failing to safely dispose of toxic waste, allowing for a continued rise in global carbon emissions, etc., will put communities with less economic freedom and political influence at a disproportionate risk of death and fatal health complications.

In most cases, unfortunately, those with economic influence are the only members of society that are able to gain political influence, meaning that the people society exploits are unlikely to have any real voice to make positive changes for themselves and their communities. Therefore, it is important that we take measures to combat climate change, as these measures would be effective in the protection of marginalized communities from future environmental disasters.

Social justice is just as vital to environmentalism as environmentalism is to social justice. Diversity of personhood and academic specialization are key factors involved in the success of combating environmental injustice.

“climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution,” said Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland.

Feminists work to level the playing field so that one gender does not have more power than the others. Likewise, environmentalists work to dismantle the very same systems of oppression and provide a sustainable future for generations to come.

The best environmental policies come from those who have suffered the most from threats like climate change, poor air quality, exposure to toxic waste, and more.

The sentence, "Environmentalists for Black Lives Matter" in different variations of dark and bright colors.
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If environmentalists truly wish to catch up to the speed of climate change, they must take on social justice movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter as if they were their own. All forms of oppression, all over the world, are interconnected; a victory for one marginalized group is a victory for all, including Mother Earth.

One tried and true method for oppressors everywhere is to separate the oppressed, drive wedges between us so that we are too busy fighting one another to direct our efforts where they truly matter.

The environmental movement has always been about more than protecting and preserving the natural world that has birthed and fed us. It is about protecting the world as a whole, including everything and everyone on it.

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