Chris Rock Failed Black People at the Oscars

Chris-Rock-PromoChris Rock’s jokes from the 88th Academy Awards were a case study in Hollywood’s race problem. In short, they were denigrating, tone-deaf, and dismissive.

On some level, you can’t fault Chris Rock. Just as he noted in his monologue, the ceremony was going to happen with or without him. And finding work in Hollywood can be tough for a black man. Clearly. And going into Sunday, I had made peace with Rock holding onto the hosting gig for those very reasons. In fact, I figured he’d use the opportunity to skewer the whiteness of the show.

That’s not what happened though. Instead, he chose to attack blackness in as many scathing and humiliating ways possible.

From barbs about only unemployed people telling you to quit (because black unemployment is so humorous) to saying we weren’t concerned about this in prior years because we had “real things” to worry about like rape and lynchings (because we’re living carefree lives now) to an extended dragging of Will and Jada (who actually admonished him and wished him well on the hosting gig), Chris Rock was hyper-critical of black people to the point of sheer disrespect. And that was just a warm up. He went on to say that the “In Memoriam” package would instead show black people who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies. Because black victimization at the hands of police authorities is ripe material for comics.

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

And as disconcerting as all of those comments were, they were made exponentially worse by the audience’s reaction. There is something sickeningly wrong with watching the sea of white people laughing hysterically and giving rousing rounds of applause to jokes about the very real and present loss of black lives. This is the problem. Of course Black people were protesting “things that mattered” in the 50’s and 60’s. Back then, just like now, white faces like those in the room were the ones doing the beatings and lynchings.

Funny thing is, we’re still protesting “things that matter” today, as ironically displayed in the #JusticeForFlint rally that was being broadcast across the internet at the same time. And for liberal Hollywood’s white people to think that any of that is funny is beyond disappointing.

And when he went in on Jada, saying that she was boycotting something that she wasn’t invited to, the haughty cheers from the crowd only cemented Hollywood’s elitist image. It was clear on their faces that Jada wasn’t good enough to sit at their table, which meant there was no need for qualms about lambasting her. Not only that, his dig on Jada simultaneously sexualized Rihanna because why not shit on two Black women for the price of one?

Chris Rock elucidated some thing about himself within that same monologue when he declared Hollywood to be “sorority racist” (which in a much more sinister way somehow implies that some forms of racism are ok).

In so many disturbing ways, it felt like a time warp. It felt like Rock was shucking and jiving for the white folk. It felt like the white people were ambivalent to black suffering. It felt like black folk are fighting for and appeased by marginalized inclusion. This was no more evident than in “deleted scenes” from Oscar-nominated films.

But this wasn’t a time warp. It was a perfect reminder that so many things haven’t changed and persist without being called out for what they are.

And now, in the wake of it all, Chris Rock is being heralded as a “winner” for “saying what needed to be said” by outlets like Rolling Stone and Variety. And maybe, for Hollywood whites, he did say just what they were looking for. They found more engaging and comical black friends to trot out as their defense, as if to say, “See? These minorities like us. You should too.”

But we don’t. And we won’t. Displays like these don’t do anything more for us than to piss us off.

And in all of this, it’s clear that Jada was right. The Academy has the right to do whatever they choose. And as a dignified and powerful people, we don’t need to beg them for anything. I just wish that everyone that was in attendance at the 88th Academy Awards understood that too.

If you want to put yourself through the pain, stream Chris Rock’s monologue below:

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.

1 Response

  1. Shawna says:

    Aw man. I thought it was Oscars meets SNL and pure classic Chris Rock. I loved it! And, I definitely don’t share any of the anti-black views you thought he was conveying. I have to say the only other person I heard be critical of it was an older white male who told me it was the worst Oscars he’d ever seen. I’ll definitely have to reconcile how you both hated it for completely different reasons. That’s strange. But, we’re all entitled to our opinions and I’ll keep loving my people, standing up for our rights in all arenas and volunteering my time to better our community while laughing my butt off at the Chris Rock jokes. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of his. Most of his stand-up routine goes beyond my comfort level, but I appreciated him making fun of everyone last night.