Why I Can’t Laugh at Dave Chappelle Anymore

TRIGGER WARNING: a conversation about rape and sexual abuse follows. 
USA: If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the RAINN hotline, a 24/7 confidential resource to access support. 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
SOUTH AFRICA: TEARS Hotline: *134*7355#

In the past week I’ve watched defenders of Dave Chappelle with growing revulsion. I’ve seen men (and women) excuse jokes about rape and pedophilia as if either subject could ever be funny. It’s not dissimilar to how both Chappelle (and his fans) offer a defense for Cosby, a convicted rapist:

He did a lot of good, don’t destroy our hero. 

It’s as if the devotion to celebrity supersedes any rational connection to basic decency. I can only attribute the galling dearth of empathy to both the inability to relate, and the desire to retain (the perception of) power. 

This is clinically sociopathic. 

Most men will never experience the terror of being physically violated; the abject horror of utter powerlessness. This is why the few men who speak out against rape typically invoke women they care about: a mother, a sister, a wife or daughter. They sympathize but they don’t empathize, because (in their minds) it’s a scenario they are unlikely to ever encounter. 

It is a terror I am, to a limited extent familiar with. 

In 1999 I spent 5 days at Riker’s Island because of an unpaid ticket. The first night when the lights went out, it took five minutes before I recognized the distinct sounds of non-consensual sex happening in close proximity. Within the space of a heartbeat, I realized that:

1. New inmates (like me) were primary targets
2. I might not be able to defend myself
3. Any infraction could either prolong my sentence or end my life. 

I was lucky; I got out unscathed. My cousin Ed was not so lucky. During his incarceration he was raped, and ended up committing suicide. 

Is rape less funny now?

Whatever your personal experiences, if your ability to feel empathy is intrinsically tied to your ability to relate, you are stunted and need to broaden your emotional bandwidth. Life is not diminished by our inability to value it.

If you don’t understand this, google: Uyinene Mrwetyana

Last week this 19 year old college student went to the post office, only to be raped and bludgeoned to death by a postal employee. The women of South Africa have taken both to the streets and to social media, with #AmINext and #EnoughIsEnough, demanding an end to the gender-based violence that kills one woman every three hours in South Africa.  

One woman. Every three hours. 

That’s an epidemic. If a virus killed one person every three hours we’d quarantine the infected. With infectious disease, while you may never personally show symptoms or be impacted negatively, you can still spread the pathogen. In other words: if you dismiss rape jokes, you are the warm petri dish that allows rape culture to flourish:

You might not be a rapist but you’re a carrier. 

If your heroes joke about rape you need new heroes. If your friends joke about rape you need new friends. If you’re willing to overlook this kind of behavior because you find their art redeeming, please allow me to spit in your lemonade; then try to drink around my phlegm. 

Nobody is perfect, we all grow from a place of ignorance, but that’s no reason to stay there, or justify anyone who does. 

#EndGenderViolence #EnoughIsEnough #AmINext

USA: If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the RAINN hotline, a 24/7 confidential resource to access support. 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
SOUTH AFRICA:TEARS Hotline: *134*7355#