An Open Letter to Dave Chapelle

Anya Geist

Dear Mr. Dave Chapelle,

Last Saturday night, you hosted Saturday Night Live. At 11:30pm, I sat on the couch with my mom and my grandparents and we waited for your monologue, curious and suspicious of what you were going to say. Everybody knows about the transphobic remarks you made last year; it is impressive, in my opinion, that SNL even invited you to host. We expected you to address those hurtful comments, to say how you didn’t mean to harm anyone. But you didn’t. Instead, you went after another group of people—my people—the Jews.

You acted under the guise of analyzing Kanye West’s and Kyrie Irving’s antisemitic remarks, but your words were antisemitic themselves. From the very start, I was concerned. You began by reading a statement saying you “denounce antisemitism in all its forms. . . and that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.” In saying that, you made light of the awful comments that Kanye has made against the Jewish people. You insinuated that it doesn’t matter what someone says—what you say—if you apologize for it. This isn’t true. Your prejudices will not be tolerated, simply because you offered an obviously insincere apology.

While discussing Kanye, you implied that it wasn’t beyond reason to think that Jews controlled Hollywood, that maybe Kanye was onto something. You thereby legitimized antisemitic tropes, ones that are untrue and incredibly harmful. And while you didn’t outright defend Kanye, you did defend Kyrie Irving. You tried to say that because Kyrie had nothing to do with the Holocaust, no one can get mad at him for publicizing an antisemitic movie that promotes Holocaust denial. Again, untrue, because the fact remains that Kyrie has made antisemitic remarks. Next you said, in a sincere tone, “I know the Jewish people have been through some terrible things all over the world. But you can’t blame that on Black Americans.” Mr. Chapelle, I believe that no one in their right mind is blaming Black Americans for the struggle of the Jewish people. Historical antisemitism is not the fault of a particular group of people—it is solely the fault of the antisemites themselves. Kanye and Kyrie are examples of those antisemites, but their race and their nationality have nothing to do with their actions. To assume so is to provoke misunderstanding and hatred.

You crossed many lines in your monologue, Mr. Chapelle. You made fun of the Jewish culture, defended the actions of antisemites, and perpetuated and validated antisemitic theories. Antisemitism is a serious issue; it affects the daily lives of Jews around the world, including mine. People say and do things that are not okay, but because they have been endorsed by famous people, and they think it is okay. It is not okay.

I admire the heart of your comedy, Mr. Chapelle; I truly do. I think it is valuable that you are a subversive voice, always challenging the norm, always playing with expectations. Comedy is a crucial part of our identity as a society. It provides a unique combination of information and entertainment—it makes us laugh, while also making us think and question. It has the ability to open our minds to new perspectives, and helps us to reconsider preconceived notions. It has power.

But that power should not be taken lightly—and you have abused it. There are comments you should not make—and you have made them, promoting misconception and assumptions. Your words as a comic can influence actions, Mr. Chapelle. People listen to you. If you tell them that it is okay to talk about a group of people like this; if you support stereotypes; if you encourage thoughtless, harmful speech; they will act on that. The lives of many Jews have just become harder, because of you.

You must understand the ramifications of your words, Mr. Chapelle. You have wasted an opportunity to provide thoughtful insight onto a sensitive topic, and you have enabled hatred and misunderstanding instead. I am extremely disappointed in you.


Anya Geist