There is a game that the powerful play. If you come from a marginalised background, you’re not in a position to speak out about your experiences. Therefore, if you do speak out about your experiences, you’re not really from a marginalised background. It’s an efficient way of ensuring that the only legitimate voices are those that are born to power.
Where are all the ‘working class’ voices in media? Well, you see, there are some people who might have come from working class backgrounds, but they’re now in the media class, so they’re not really representative of those people who are from the working classes who don’t have a platform in the media. Where are all the voices from the unemployed in the media? Well, you see, there are people who might have experiences of being unemployed, but they’re now employed by the media, so they’re no longer representative of those who are unemployed and are not employed by the media.
And so on and so forth. One of the most insidious ways this game gets played is around race. Once a person from an ethnic minority is in a position of having a platform to speak out, they’re token white.
Race is central to Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special, Sticks & Stones. As such, a significant portion of the content is not designed for me — a conservative white guy — as the audience. But this opens up the largest question of Sticks & Stones: who is the target audience? When Chappelle opens his set openly mocking the audience, it’s clear that he has an idea of who is intended audience isn’t: a mainstream progressive audience characterised as both censorious and, importantly, predominately white.
And this kicks off the metacommentary about Sticks & Stones. What can Chappelle, an African American man, say? Who decides? Is Chappelle still allowed a platform as an African American man, or must he say what white audiences want him to have a platform? Is Chappelle — as some critics suggest by repeated references to his wealth — simply too rich to be an edgy black comic?