The stand up comedian, Chris Rock, has a routine called “Black people Versus Nigga.” He makes fun of the stereotypical uneducated lower class black man, “niggas”, from the educated middle class black man perspective. Chris Rock, being a comedian, intended for the routine to funny. Most audience members found it funny, while some find it offensive.
The majority of the audience had a dominant reading because they thought it was funny. Most of the people I interviewed thought the routine was funny because they believe that the comments are true. The main points of Chris Rock’s jokes were that “niggas” are criminals, dependent on welfare, and value being ignorant. All of the people I interviewed live in Brooklyn and Bronx, and between the ages 19 to 37. I interviewed white, black, and bi-racial people to see how race effects interpretation. The majority that liked this clip liked it because they can relate to it. People said that they have people that are like subject of the jokes in their apartment buildings and neighborhoods. One white male interviewee said, “ its funny because I know these guys. They hang out on the corner all day. They are lazy. I don’t understand why they don’t get a job?” In Chris Rock’s routine, he makes a distinction between black people and “niggas” based on education and class. Many white interviewees defended their comments, such as “they are all lazy” and “they are all drug dealers”, by saying that they have black friends that don’t act like that and they were referring to the bad blacks. Most black interviewees that liked the routine agreed that there is a division in the black community between good black people and bad black people, referred to as “niggas”. All black people interviewed that enjoyed the jokes identified with Chris Rock and separated themselves completely from the identity as a “nigga”. One black male interviewee said, “I like it because I’m sick of other people making look bad.” Another black male interviewee said, “I hate niggas. If I can get a job and go to school, so can they. They are just lazy.” The majority of the comments coming from interviewees that had a dominant readings stem from the idea of personal responsibility and the Protestant work ethic. The Protestant work ethic promotes the idea that an individual’s success is determined by how hard they work and if they fail it’s their own fault. Personal responsibility arguments allow contempt for “niggas”, without addressing the class coding of that racial identity and the inequality facing the entire black community.
Only two interviewees found the comedy routine offensive and had oppositional readings. Both interviewees were black and in their 30s. Both were offended that a black man would make comments that they would hear coming from a racist white person. The black female interviewee stated, “This is the kind of rhetoric you would hear on fox. It’s disappointing when people forget where they came from and demonize their own community.” She responded on the fact that she believes that there isn’t solidarity within the black community because of the division of class. In her experience, educated middle class blacks resent lower income blacks for feeding into stereotypes and lower income blacks look at educated middle class as sell outs that gave up their ethnicity. She believes that those conflicts in the black community prevent people from organizing and fighting for social and economic equality. The black male that had an oppositional reading was offended by the comedy routine because he believes that most white people don’t make a difference between black people and niggas and will take this routine as more support for their racist ideas. He used racial profiling and Stop and Frisk, as an example of how race issues doesn’t account for class and personal accomplishments. He said, “When cops stop a man on the street, they don’t care if you have a job and take care of your kids. All they see is a black man walking in the Bronx, so he must be selling drugs.” He continued to talk about how the high-end retail store Barneys uses racial profiling in their stores to prevent shoplifting. It shows that even after you become an economic success society will still see as a criminal because you are black. He said, “The kid had paid for the belt and the cops still questioned him because he was black. He didn’t even commit a crime and he was harassed. How is that not racist?”
The ideas presented in Chris Rock’s routine of Black People Versus Niggas reflect racial issues in our modern multicultural society. Currently, American culture implies that we live in a multicultural society, where people of all races, religions, gender and ethnicities live together without conflict. This ideology promotes the myth of color blindness, or the idea that race is irrelevant in our equal society. The belief that we live in a post-racial world comes from the success of the civil rights movements of the 1960’s and the election of the U.S.’s first black president in 2008. This ideology ignores the current racial inequalities in our society and the systemic racism in the institutions that people are supposed to rely on for socioeconomic mobility. In the comedy routine and the culture at large, dividing the black community into good and bad blacks, and coding goodness and badness with work ethnic and personal responsibility ignores the impact of privilege and opportunity associated with class standing. America has historically always believed in personal responsibility and the American Dream of being a self-made success. The American Dream is an ideology that is built off of the Protestant work ethic that if you work hard you will be a success because God will reward you for your work and if you fail or struggle, you are not working hard enough. These ideas, which are still prominent in our modern society, exploded through out American culture in a time period when blacks were considered property and not equal citizens. Our institutions that call for personal responsibility were not structured nor radically restructured to promote equality, which in return makes socioeconomic mobility difficulty for minorities in contemporary America.