Alfonso Ribeiro, Binary Thinking, Dave Chappelle, Homophobia, Hubert Davis, Misogynoir, Misogyny, Patriarchy, Pitt, Sexual Harassment, The Matrix (1999), Transphobia, White Supremacy
There have been and will be tons of think pieces about the misogyny, the homophobia, and the transphobia in Dave Chappelle’s The Closer, his latest/last stand-up comedy special for Netflix. Within that maelstrom of using the stage as a 75-minute patriarchal therapy session, I noticed how most of the people whom Chappelle apparently discussed his id issues with were white women, whether straight, lesbian, or transgender, including the late Daphne Dorman. “Maybe he should spend time with transgender Black women. They are among the most marginalized in the US, with deadly results, between suicides & murders,” I tweeted. But Chappelle never would. His hypermasculine defense of transphobes and homophobes like Harry Potter billionaire J. K. Rowling, fellow comedian Kevin Hart, and rapper DaBaby, means seeing the binary and non-binary white women he referenced throughout his latest stand-up concert as a sign of personal progress, or even, as part of a televised revolution.
From a deeply emotional and psychological level, I fail to understand this penchant for Black men like Chappelle to use and idolize white women as if they are the pentacle of all that America ought to be. Hubert Davis and Alfonso Ribeiro have publicly uplifted their marriages to white women as a commentary on racial progress. “I’m very proud to be African-American. But I’m also very proud that my wife is white, and I’m also very proud that my three very beautiful, unbelievable kids are a combination of us,” Davis said during his opening press conference as the first Black men’s head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Ribeiro of Fresh Prince fame believes “the Black house” has ostracized him. “I am in a mixed relationship….And it’s not easy to make that choice…I’m never going to be white and I’m never going to be fully supported in the Black house,” he said in an interview with Newsweek in August.
Davis’ and Ribeiro’s are both very strange statements. Somehow they and many other Black men have convinced themselves that marrying white women is a sign of racism’s end. Somehow, this is the televised revolution the US needs. Somehow, marrying white will dismantle the latticework of racism on which this nation is built. But, as sociologist Crystal M. Fleming wrote in her How to be Less Stupid About Race, “we’re not going to end white supremacy by ‘hugging it out.’ And we’re certainly not going to fuck our way out of racial oppression. That’s not how power works.” The US Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that legalized interracial marriage was groundbreaking, but it never was the “promised land” that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned the night before his death in 1968.
My first time thinking through the social and political implications of Black men and white women together in union or solidarity was in 1990, my third year at the University of Pittsburgh. At the student union one day, I sat down for lunch in between classes to hang out with three of my friends. Two were already in the middle of conversation about a growing visible concern on campus — young Black men dating young white women. The two of them (one man, one woman), were biracial themselves, each the child of a white mother and a Black father. One other Black girlfriend also chimed in. They were decidedly against the idea of interracial dating and marriage. At one point I said, “If they love each other, what does it matter?” My two Black biracial friends both sighed and side-eyed me, and then laughed like I was telling a cruel joke.
What they understood and I didn’t get in 1990 was that while universal love ultimately conquers all, romantic love and friendships will never negate racism in any of its forms. I also knew about Emmett Till’s lynching for winking or whistling at a white woman. I definitely knew from the movie Birth of a Nation (the original one) the deadly dangers of white women accusing Black men of rape or unwanted flirtations.
I also knew this from personal experience. The year before, and with the support of my one-time boss, a 26-year-old white woman at my campus computing lab job who was my supervisor’s high school friend accused me of sexual harassment. This after she had groped and squeezed my ass cheeks on two occasions during our shifts. I was 19 years old at the time.
In his Afropessimism, Frank B. Wilderson III wrote, “You marry White. It doesn’t change…What do you do with an unconscious that appears to hate you?” The bigger question is, why would any Black man ever expect to end the latticework of American racism and anti-Blackness through interracial marriage? This is the typical combination of Black mens’ colorism, hypermasculinity, and seeking the same status as white men through white women. “Those black men who believe deeply in the American dream…a masculine dream of dominance and success at the expense of others, are most likely to express negative feelings about black women and…desire [for] a white woman,” as bell hooks wrote in her Ain’t I A Woman.
Davis, Ribeiro, Chappelle, Wilderson, and many other Black men are too susceptible to the idea of interracial relationships as their revolution, their American Dream. The late critical race theorist Derrick Bell foresaw this in one of his lesser known allegorical essays from Faces at the Bottom of the Well, “The Last Black Hero.” It’s a story about a leading Black revolutionary who fell in love with a white woman. As Bell wrote, many whites in power see Black men with white women “as proof that black men in such relationships were, despite their militant rhetoric, not really dangerous.” For anyone working to dismantle the matrix of American racism, though, this way of Black-man-thinking (and white-woman-thinking) is very dangerous. Especially in the words and deeds of people like Chappelle, Davis, Ribeiro, and Wilderson.
This is why if the revolution does come, not only will it not be televised, it will rely predominantly on Black women binary and non-binary to lead it from imagination to actuality. Like in The Matrix movie series, there are too many Black men and white women who have “the world pulled over their eyes,” a world of white binary hypermasculine and patriarchal racism. Too many Black men — whether they are entertainers in need of long-term therapy like Chappelle or are people who see themselves leading revolutions — are too compromised by their own gendered privilege and social status desires to be the leaders they’ve all been waiting for.