“Kiss My Black Ass, America!!!”– “Tron”, Dave Chappelle Show, Season 1, Episode 4
I believe that in 2019, reparations as a keyword and hot button political promise surrounding HR 40 has divided US Blacks into camps that once did not exist but now frame those Blacks who may have arguments as to why reparations may not be a good idea as “anti-Black”.
As a means to provide this discussion with a much needed room for reasonable disagreement, I would like to show examples of US Blacks prior to reparations being spouted by Whyte policy makers creating an oversensitivity among some quarters of US Black America discussing potential healthy and unhealthy hypothetical outcomes without being labeled “anti-Black”.
Dave Chappelle’s Alternate Reparations Reality
On February 12, 2003, episode four of Dave Chappelle’s ground breaking Comedy Central show aired. Within a set of skits, mock man-on-the-ground, and stage routines Dave presents what in 2003 was a fairly common discussion on potential damages of reparations.
While much of his humorous presentation is what I have termed “the pocket watching hypothesis of reparations,” it must be noted that it was a fairly common sentiment among US Blacks of all class strata.
He opens this conversation as a segue away from a bit in his opening monologue addressing affirmative action and slavery. He enters this spot by stating,”I’m going to say it publicly, not only am I for affirmative action, I will take it a step further, I want my reparations for slavery!!! That’s right, I’m trying to get paid for the work of my forefathers.”
He also adds a cavaet to these sentiments. Dave states,”The only thing I would say is that if we ever do get our reparations, which I doubt, but if we do, we Black people have got to get together and come up with a plan for the money. This is a consumer based economy, you can’t just give Black people all this money and turn them loose on the streets. That could be a potential disaster!!!”
Before Dave even sends us into this skit, he presents us with a few lines of thinking vis a vis US reparations for US Slavery. His first line of thinking is that, yes, reparations is a desirable thing. He also defines reparations as, money “paid for the work of my forefathers.” I believe this is important.
It is important that we all define reparations for our Selves. It is important that we all have a vision of what reparations should look like. It is important that we bring to this collective discussion our own individual interpretations.
I believe Dave’s comedic–thus terse, yet thoughtful– definition should not be weighed as filler or transitive. Nor should we treat our own personal thoughts about reparations, pro et contra, lightly. What Dave is suggesting here is an interpretation of reparations as unpaid inheritance. As a topic that impacts millions, this is just one interpretation of millions. He has a personal interpretation, because, it is personal.
I also think it is important that he qualifies his hypothetical with, “which I doubt”. That is to say, he doubts US Blacks will receive their just bequeathal.
I am highlighting this statement because it reinforces a sentiment of doubt and uncertainty that should always permeate discussions about promises from governments that provided cover for those atrocities of US Slavery, Jim Crow, Red Lining, Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration. Dave considered this in 2003, I believe we should consider it in 2019, and I would remind us here that HR-40 is not a proposal to pay reparations, but a proposal to form a committee to discuss discussions discussing reparations.
He adds this qualification of doubt to a caveat that I am witnessing people in this contemporary moment being attacked as “anti-Black” for expressing. In 2003, Dave Chappelle reminds us that we live in a consumer economy.
Once again, I too have my own thoughts about reparations. One of those thoughts is that it is not my business to pocket watch other US Blacks, in hypothetical considerations or otherwise. My point here is to show that criticisms about a hypothetical reparation payment have existed in the US Black collective mind without being considered as “anti-Black” or forms of “self-hate” for quite some time.
This first of two skits begin as Dave invites us to imagine a world where US Black descedants of Slaves are given a reparation package sans a collective economic plan. It is important(I know, that’s my new favorite word here) to understand that this joke only works if we accept this notion of a reparation package without a collective agreement about how that money would be spent in, as Dave calls it, a “consumer economy.”
Framed as a “special report” for channel 3 news, Dave playing as a whyte news anchor, “Chuck Taylor” brings us a top story, “Reparations 2003”. In this alternate reality, Congress has agreed to bequeath US Blacks a trillion dollar plus reparations package. After Dave’s “Chuck Taylor” exposition, we go to a mock man-on-the-street as “the first checks” have been sent out.
With “Wendy Mullen” in front of a liquor store in Queens, we are shown scores of Black people smiling and waving in a line stretching around a corner waiting to have their checks cashed. “Wendy” states that they have been standing in lines for hours. In fact, “Wendy” has clips of earlier interviews from those that already cashed their checks. We transition to a Black woman after cashing her check– indicated by her waving a wad of bills — she states,”Hide the money y’all, there’s poor peopla around. With your broke ass!!!”
In another of these mock interviews, “Wendy” asks a Black man in a Kools cigarette truck played by Donnell Rawlings was he going to quit his truck driving job. Rawlings’s character replies that he just bought that truck cash, and now has enough cigarettes to last him(and his family) a lifetime. As “Wendy” returns back to “Chuck” in the studio, “Chuck” is written to ask “Wendy” why there are no banks in the ghetto. To which “Wendy” responds,”Well, Chuck, that’s because banks hate Black people. But, I think that’s about to change.”
Continuing the skit’s theme of a news broadcast, “Chuck” proceeds to discuss the effect of this new injection of capital on markets. Financial correspondent “Michael Peterson” (a whyte male in a suit in tie with a stock ticker below him and a scene of stock market traders behind him) tells us that “these people are spending money like hot cakes”. He relays that Sprint prices have risen as two million deliquent phone bills had been paid off. Of course, they have “Michael” report that gold and diamond prices are their highest ever. In this world, oil prices have gone down, while chicken prices have shot up to six hundred dollars a bucket. He states that eight thousand record labels had been started in just that hour, and Cadillac had sold three million Escalade trucks that afternoon alone. To sum up that bit, “Michael” states,”these people seem to be breaking their necks just to give this money right back to us.”
A line that they use this “Michal Peterson” character to convey is that “the recession is over and we have no one else to thank but these Black people.”
We return back to Dave’s “Chuck Taylor” who announces a breaking story that the crime rate has fallen. This ends the first skit on this topic. This episode furthers with another monologue and man-on-the-street bit about award winning breasts. Closing this episode, however, we return to this alternate reality as “Chuck” reports that Blacks basketball players stopped playing for the NBA, and Bill Gates has “been overtaken” on Fortune magazine’s wealthiest people listing.
We are then taken to Harlem where “Tron”(also played by Chappelle) is questioned as to how he surpassed Bill Gates on that list. We see “Tron” surrounded by a group of brothers waving wads of dollars next to a baby carriage. “Tron” states that he won this money in a dice game. When asked was that baby in adjancent baby carriage his son, he states,”naw, I just bought this baby cash.” It concludes with a question inquirying his intents with all of his new found money. Dave has “Tron” assert,”[I’m going to] spend this money before you honkies change your minds!!!”
In one last segment, “Chuck” introduces “reliable, friendly, portly, Big Al”. “Big Al” (another performance by Dave Chappelle) stands in front of a weather chart with a gold chain and crown on. He immediately wishes his audience a “Happy Reparations Day, Happy Juneteenth”. Addressing “Chuck” he announces that he has turned in his resignation, hours ago. He then states that the voice he uses is not his real speaking voice, and he begins to talk in a deeper voice.
This closes this segment and skit out.
Dave Chappelle’s Reparations ::: Truth In Jest
One of the most disturbing aspects of US Slavery is that it not only robbed our forebearers of labor, time, and thus money, but it also robbed them of self-determination. That is, US Slavery robbed our ancestors of an ability to choose a course of life suitable to their tastes and visions of what a life well lived should look like. We do not know if those born into this evil institution would have chosen to form their own nation like so many who came to this contintent during that era, or if they would have decided to fight those that enslaved them on Afrikan shores. We could never know; human existence was robbed of that opportunity to know.
Without self-determination there is no intentional time to organize monolithic(think groups on that level of nation states) organizations that introduce and implement national scale programs of collective economics. This particular conundrum has been addressed across centuries and works as premise of Dave Chappelle’s humor here. Those addressing these same concerns now are being labeled as “anti-Black” despite this historical fact.
We first see Dave Chappelle addressing this lack of economic collectivity as “Wendy Mullen” interviews Blacks outside of a check cashing establishment. Check cashing businesses are pretty much an institution in urban Black communities. Even Russell “Harriet Tubman Rape Tape” Simmons attempted to exploit this particular financial condition with his RushCard. US Blacks in 2003(as well as 2019) were without a national scale system of banking, and many have been victims of predatory overdraft policies.
In his opening monologue, Chappelle explains that his fear of reparations as an allocation of large sums of money rests on a fact that “this is a consumer based economy.” We see this addressed as “Wendy Mullen” interviews a brother driving a Kools cigarette truck after purchasing it with cash so that he could have enough cigarettes for his family his entire life.
To add further clarity to his hypothesis, Dave Chappelle invites us to the stock exchange of this alternate reality. Here he takes US Black consumer trends of 2003(and still some that exist in 2019) to task. Gold and diamond prices soaring might seem a bit extreme, but given jewelry budgets of average rappers with a rags to riches themed personal brand, I think this is fair play.
It is important to note here that he decides to use a Whyte man in a suit in tie to represent corporate USA. Further, Dave has this “Michael Peterson” say, “they are breaking their backs to give us this money back.” Another very common anti-reparations argument that exists among common Black folks with race pride. “Michael Peterson” is used to represent a machine that exploits consumer trends to systematically and systemically replicate the status quo across generations.
This machinery — while represented here by Chappelle as a Whyte guy in a suit and tie(a suit) — is historically aided by those same US Blacks often lauded as aspirational, ideal, and paragons of the collective US Black national body. Publisher of Ebony and Jet magazine under eponymous publishing company, John H. Johnson Publications, also published an anti-Black business manual distributed to Whyte corporations, The Negro Handbook.
It is important to note that during that period where integration was being pushed in same manner that reparations is being pushed now, corporate USA was being catered to by Blacks like EBONY’s Johnson. Whyte owned Corporations would eventually extend their campaigns to desegregate US Black dollars through support for integration for their own capital base. Much of these ideas are represented in Dave Chappelle’s skit, yet in 2019, these ideas are being labeled as “anti-Black.”
Reparations as a redistribution of wealth
In conclusion, I feel it necessary to reiterate that Dave Chappelle states he is for reparations. Within Chappelle’s Reparations 2003 skit, he includes several ideas that serve as reasons why. Most apparent are his witty and subtle notions of wealth redistribution.
Dave’s “Michael Peterson” bit is mainly communicating this idea that US Black consumer trends couple with a trillion dollar plus surplus injection into domestic markets would prove to be more beneficial to Whyte corporate interests. In fact, Dave all but calls reparations in this alternate reality a “stimulus package.”
In both of his man-on-the-street(well, woman on the street, as it were) segments express a subtle recognition of a reparation package being a redistribution of wealth. A Black Woman walking out of a check cashing establishment with a fan of dollars looks around at a street full of other Blacks and looks at a single Whyte person(“Wendy Mullen”) and tells them to watch out for “poor people.” Where most of these segments in this skit use urban US Blacks as butt of this on-going joke, this particular bit reverses that.
In another segment of this skit, “Tron” surpasses Bill Gates as wealthiest person on Fortune magazine’s list of wealthiest people. This too is a subtle statement about reparations as a redistribution of wealth. Further, “Big Al’s” segment expresses this sentiment of redistribution of wealth where a professional class Black person refuses to hide his speaking voice, thus a reversal on social capital recuperation.
I think it is important(there I go again…) to remember that Dave speaks about reparations for US Slavery with doubt. He verbally announces his doubt prior to introducing this skit, and even has “Tron” echo this sentiment of doubt by saying,”I’m going to spend this money before you honkies change your minds”.
His bookending of doubt, even in a humor-based alternate reality, provides an appropriate frame for all of us to work within. None of us can be absolutely certain of outcomes relating to whatever sort of reparations package rendered. Integration was treated as a solution for all that ailed USA racially and Whyte corporations coopted every radical notion for marketing purposes. Many thought that an Afrikan-Amerikkkan US President would alter trajectory of USA’s racial animus. While I hope if US Slaves are financially rewarded their just due, we get a better turn out than integration or Y’all’s Daddy Obeezy, I doubt it.
And doubt is a better route than blind belief and name calling.