I learned two things yesterday as “Dear White People” spent a majority of the day trending on Twitter. One, the popular Netflix series is co-run by Jaclyn Moore, a white woman. And two, folks will engage in Olympic level gymnastics to avoid addressing transphobia.
Comedian Dave Chappelle recently released a new stand up special on Netflix called The Closer. In it, he complains that the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights seems to have surpassed civil rights for Blacks in America. He says, “In our country, you can shoot and kill a n-gga but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”
Later, Chappelle likens the relationship between women and trans women to Black people and white people in blackface. His message is clear: trans women aren’t real women and there is no intersectionality between Blackness and the LGBTQ community. Both assertions are incorrect.
Moore, a transwoman, works for Netflix, the same streaming service that keeps providing a platform for Chappelle to recycle the same “jokes” he’s been peddling since 2017. And after a third special that has been deemed homophobic and transphobic, she shared that she can no longer work for the company “as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.” She made her resignation public in a Twitter thread.
Sadly, instead of people taking the time to hear Moore’s words, the focus shifted to her appointment as co-showrunner for a series meant to detail the Black experience at a predominantly white university.
People pointed out that as a white woman, Moore was proving Chappelle’s point by using her “privilege” as a member of the LGBTQ community to boycott a Black man. Others focused on their distaste for the trajectory of “Dear White People” and attributed it to Moore’s whiteness.
It’s no coincidence that this is the conversation people opted to have instead of the one about transphobia. It’s much easier to focus on the oppression we experience rather than the oppression we inflict on others.
Continuing to watch Chappelle’s standup, dismissing his commentary as mere jokes with no real-world consequences is a part of that oppression. The notions he spouts during his specials cause more than hurt feelings. They are a matter of life and death.
To focus on Moore is to ignore the very sect Chappelle seems to have forgotten: Black trans women. These women are the ones who are most endangered by the notions that they are not “real” or that their existence somehow poses a threat to cisgender women.
Every year since 2013, the number of trans women murdered increases. And every year, Black and Latinx women represent the greatest number of victims.
Members of the trans community have been pleading with us to acknowledge this level of violence. They’ve asked us to simply watch our mouths in order not to perpetuate it. And for years, Chappelle, with millions of listeners at his disposal, has heard those requests and refused to adjust.
Activist Raquel Willis tweeted about Chappelle’s failure to acknowledge the people who are simultaneously carrying the weight of being both Black a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s convenient for Black cishet male comedians to talk about LGBTQ+ folks as if our group is only or even predominantly white. With that frame, they don’t have to contend with how Black cishet folks often enact (physical and psychological) violence on Black LGBTQ+ folks.
With that frame, Chappelle and other Black cishet men don’t have to acknowledge that their hate of trans and queer people is more than “just jokes.” It regularly becomes beating “the queer” out of young people, shunning us, and even killing us.”
Choosing to focus on the racial dynamics of Chappelle’s critic instead of our collective transphobia is an easy choice for those of us who don’t want to do the work. It’s a decision to remain stagnant, to pretend that as cishet Black folks we don’t enjoy any privileges in this world. It is to adopt the same talking points and ideologies of our oppressors. And most importantly, it’s to ignore the Black women who suffer most in our community all for the sake of a few laughs.