COMEDIAN DAVE CHAPPELLE, in his new Netflix comedy special “Sticks and Stones,” stirred controversy with his remarks concerning the two men profiled in HBO’s Leaving Neverland. The two-part four-hour presentation which was released in March featured conversations with Wade Robson and James Safechuck regarding the abuse they allege had happened to them at the hands of Michael Jackson.
“I don’t believe those mother***ers,” Chappelle stated on Netflix, referring to the recollections as “gross” and “nasty sh*t.” Beyond dismissing their allegations, Chappelle went on to dismiss their pain if in fact it did happen, musing about “how good it must have felt to go to school the next day” after being raped by a mega star like Jackson. He played to more audience laughter, sharing that he personally would have targeted Macaulay Culkin if he were a pedophile. While slamming Robson and Safechuck, he voiced his support for accused sex abuser R. Kelly. He also voiced support for Kevin Hart who stepped down from hosting the Oscars over derogatory statements about the LGBT community and Louis C. K. who acted out sexually in the presence of others without consent.
Humor is often instrumental in healing. We do not condone laughter, but it is hurtful when weaponized. It rings hollow, even vicious, when done at the expense of survivors. Turning the pain of others into a joke becomes just another way of looking through and looking past childhood sexual abuse. The propensity of people not to open their eyes to sexual abuse is a disturbing yet pervasive phenomenon. From the Catholic Church to the Boy Scouts, and from Penn State to Michael Jackson, people can suspect it, know about it, and even outright see it. And yet so many remain hesitant, silent, or otherwise passively accepting. It is important to understand that there are many like Wade and James who are struggling with sharing their own journey and who are watching this. When they see the pain of others dismissed with slick one-liners and cheapened with laughter, they perhaps might wonder if they should simply remain silent.
Chappelle plays to disaffection by suggesting that we can look at abuse – but only as a joke. In his recent special, he takes the laughs of his audience to the bank at the expense of the victims who have come forward. But it takes no integrity to laugh at others. It takes integrity to stand strong despite it. It takes integrity to step out of the shadows of shame and become a beacon for others.
We stand fully with Wade, James, and the many other heroes who are part of our community of survivors. We stand with those who have made the courageous choice to step out of the secrets and be heard.