Can Dave Chappelle Save Free Speech?
With their control of all major educational and media institutions, progressives have had the ability to control the political language we use for a good half century now. Historically, they have used that control, in Orwell’s words, “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In recent years, however, they have used language as a cudgel.
Orwell also told us how we fight back. “We have now sunk to a depth,” he wrote, “at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” Comedian Dave Chappelle has been made a pariah in many circles by doing just that, stating the obvious. “Did you know that Planned Parenthood was for abortions?” Chappelle said in a 2017 comedy special. “It’s for people that don’t plan things out at all.” He might have pointed out there is no parenthood involved either.
Chappelle accurately calls this era “the age of spin.” He followed up by subverting another euphemism of the pro-abortion movement, asking the young males in his audience, “Are you pro-choice or anti-consequences? What does it all really mean?” Many in the audience laughed and applauded, not fully realizing that Chappelle has just skewered one of their most sacred cows. In the process, he may have changed at least a few minds. Ridicule works.
Say what you will about Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, but she did not bother with euphemism. In her 1925 book Pivot of Civilization, she made an unabashed case not only for birth control, but also for forced sterilization of the “unfit.”
“Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society,” Sanger wrote, “if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism.” After Hitler gave Sanger’s brand of eugenics a bad name, the organization she founded rebranded itself “Planned Parenthood” and moved fully into the age of euphemism.
Of late, the pro-abortion movement has been organizing under the banner of “reproductive rights.” Chappelle needs to sink his teeth into this one. No one has tried to deny a woman her right to reproduce since 1927 when Sanger’s eugenicist’s friends on the Supreme Court okayed Virginia’s forced sterilization of the unfortunate Carrie Buck.
Arguably, the climate movement has relied more heavily on word control than the abortion movement. Activists could sell “global warming” only as long as the globe warmed. When a temporary warming “paused” some fifteen or so years ago, the whole movement quietly adapted the phrase “climate change” in its stead. As hard as I looked, I could find no acknowledgement that the semantics had changed, let alone that anyone had changed them.
Those who questioned this scam were hammered with the phrase “denier,” a world previously applied to those who questioned the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a real historical event. “Climate change” is a dubious computer projection of the future. No matter. Questioning is evil.
By contrast, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, an African American convert to Islam, has spoken openly about the introduction of the word, “Islamophobe.” He was there at the creation. He traced its origin to a group meeting at the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Northern Virginia in the late 1990s.
According to Muhammad, a critic of radical Islam, the IIIT Islamists consciously decided to mimic homosexual activists who had been successfully using the phrase “homophobia” to defame the opponents of their political agenda. They saw the same potential in the concept of “Islamophobia.” With just this one word, they could tie their struggle to those of other marginalized groups and "beat up their critics.”
As Muhammad noted too, Muslim activists coined the term “Muslim-American” to give their fully heterogeneous followers the patina of racial homogeneity, all the better to demand the various perks that come with oppression. Baptists have apparently not caught on yet.
As to “homophobia,” that word was originally coined to mean self-loathing, a man’s fear that he himself is homosexual. As the word was weaponized to use against Christians, it ceased to make sense. No one “feared” homosexuals, but people rightly feared being called a “homophobe.”
Even more fearsome is the word “racism,” a career killer when strategically applied. When that word lost its sting through overuse, leftists applied the almost comical phrase “white supremacist” to anyone who challenged their monopoly on language.
Former Iowa Congressman Steve King lost his seat after a New York Times reporter twisted King’s critique of the media’s newfound fondness for the terms “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” into an endorsement of the same. Mark Steyn, filling in for Rush Limbaugh, said the one mistake King made was talking to the New York Times. “They’re only asking you… to stitch you up,” said Steyn, “To talk to you for three hours and get you to use one phrase in there that they can lift out and kill you with.” Right he was. House leadership buckled under the criticism and kneecapped King to placate the woke. Submission never works. It only feeds the beast.
More strategic has been the left’s use of the word “equity.” With almost no one objecting, almost every major institution has embraced it as a replacement for “equal opportunity.” Equity, by contrast, means “equal outcome.” Society can accomplish “equity” only at the point of a bayonet or the barrel of a gun. But we are not supposed to notice.
The Left had previously succeeded in dropping the indefensible concept of “affirmative action” for the nebulous concept of “diversity,” the all-purpose “climate change” of race. Diversity and equity have joined forces with the even more ambiguous “inclusivity” to form a new pantheon of guilt dispensers, aptly shorthanded to DEI, Latin for “gods.”
Of all the recent euphemisms adapted by the Left none has been quite so, well… Orwellian, as the one adapted by the “trans” movement. I refer here not to “transphobia.” That should have been success enough for the woke, but to “gender affirming care.” Never before has such barbarism -- teenage castration, gratuitous breast removal -- been so shrouded in what Orwell calls “sheer cloudy vagueness.”
If anyone has emerged as the poster child for transphobia itself, it is Chappelle. Googling “Chappelle” and “transphobia” I get 319,000 hits. The top two headlines read, “Dave Chappelle Denounces Kanye’s Anti-Jew Remarks But Not His Own Transphobic Jokes” and “Dave Chappelle hosted SNL despite history of transphobic jokes.”
The first article, like many of those about the appearance of Dave Chappelle on “Saturday Night Live” this past week, missed the point. In his own impressively deft way Chappelle was denouncing not Kanye, but the hypocrisy and oppression that reigns throughout the media on the question of speech. “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk …about anything,” said a solemn Chappelle at the end of his opening monologue. “It’s making my job incredibly difficult. to be honest with you I’m getting sick talking to a crowd like this. I love you to death and thank you for your support. I hope they don’t take anything away from me -- whoever they are!”
As the second of those two headlines above makes clear, “they” do want to take something away from anyone who flouts “their” control of the language, especially those who venture a “restatement of the obvious,” Dave Chappelle included. Happily, Chappelle is not letting “them” shut him up.
Please check out Jack Cashill’s new podcast, “Upstream with Cashill and Edge.”
Image: John Bauld