Chris Rock held no punches in a recent interview with the New York Times, waxing poetic as well as speaking in blunt terms about everything from his latest acting role in the “Fargo” TV series to what life has been like for him and his family during the coronavirus pandemic to the nationwide protests against police violence.
An while the comedian did, of course, crack jokes at times, he was plenty serious when the conversation turned to the topic of racism as Rock offered a metaphor about “mentally handicapped” white people being predisposed to not fully grasping Black folks’ plight for racial equality.
Noting that Rock’s routine from his 2018 “Tamborine” comedy special on Netflix addressed the kind of police violence that is seemingly on the verge of finally being reckoned with two years later, the Times’ Dave Isikoff asked if he’s seen any “improvement” with racism in America since then.
Normally, there’s a good chance Chris Rock would pounce on a question like that undoubtedly churn out some laughs. But these are far from normal times, something he emphasized in his astute answer.
Saying that racism is “not going away,” Rock focused on the notion of “progress” and how it’s viewed through the filters of individual lenses. Using Barack Obama and Jackie Robinson for examples of racial barriers being broken, Rock said it’s almost like white people believe that there were no Black people who could be an effective president or professional baseball player before they came along, respectively.
“That’s how white people have learned about racism,” Rock told the Times. “They think, when these people work hard enough, they’ll be like Jackie. And the real narrative should be that these people, the Black people, are being abused by a group of people that are mentally handicapped. And we’re trying to get them past their mental handicaps to see that all people are equal.”
He wasn’t finished.
“Humanity isn’t progress — it’s only progress for the person that’s taking your humanity,” Rock continued. “If a woman’s in an abusive relationship and her husband stops beating her, you wouldn’t say she’s made progress, right? But that’s what we do with Black people. We’re constantly told that we’re making progress. The relationship we’re in — the arranged marriage that we’re in — it’s that we’re getting beat less.”
Comedians by definition are tasked with amusing people and making them laugh, but history has shown that the most effective joke-tellers’ material — like Rock’s — can also prompt the deepest of introspection once the chuckles die down.