A transphobic society says okay to Netflix and Dave Chappelle

I posted this article on October 14th when I thought the story had played itself out. I’m happy to say I was wrong. Thanks to the work of Netflix employees who continue to leak damaging internal communications that make co-CEO Ted Sarandos look like a tone deaf bumbler, the pressure to remove Chappelle continues and appears to be building momentum. Netflix first suspended a trans employee who tweeted criticism of the special, before reversing the suspension. Now they’ve fired the person responsible for leaking financial information about what the show cost ($24.1 million US, more than what Netflix paid for the hit The Squid Game). It seems they believe throwing gasoline on the fire is the way to put it out. At least 1,000 employees have reportedly planned a virtual walkout for 20 October in response. I’m greatly encouraged by all this, but will leave my original article up. We’ll see where this story ends.

This is not about Dave Chappelle’s latest transphobic diatribe on Netflix. I’ll leave it to others more powerful than I and who have some insight into the comedy industry to repudiate it. Black trans woman and comedian Dahlia Belle’s has written an article in The Guardian titled “Dear Dave Chappelle, transgender comedians can take a joke, but why are yours so unfunny?” that is worth reading.

I’m more interested in how this affair reflects on society in general. If you’re trans and reading this, it is no secret to you that we live in transphobic societies. As a species, we’ve evolved to the point where we’re starting to believe it’s not a great thing to single out entire populations for hate simply for being who they are, but we’re not yet that good at putting the principle into practice. It’s been such an integral part of human history that we’re reluctant to lose the thrill of ganging up on people. The gratification that comes from feeling superior may be superficial but it’s powerful. Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos, responding to criticism his network has received for airing the show, said that some people may find the comedy “mean-spirited”, but “our members enjoy it”. You can be cancelled for making sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments, but isn’t it great that we still have trans folks that we can lay into?

Dave Chappelle isn’t losing his job. On the contrary, the Washington Post quoted Sarandos as saying his show won’t be removed, citing “creative freedom” and that “it’s an important part of our content offering”. Translation: it’s making us money. The rich and powerful exploiting the relatively poor and powerless is okay as long as a supine population lets them get away with it. Capitalism has been doing that since its inception so it’s no surprise Sarandos thinks raking in dollars is more important than doing the right thing; but if it were another comedian joking about Black people in this derogatory way, their “creative freedom” would get shut down pretty quickly.

As a trans woman, I’m not thrilled that so many people enjoy being “mean-spirited”. Worse still, they probably don’t even think of it. People will claim they’re not transphobic because they’ve accepted it’s not a nice thing to be, but they don’t think getting a laugh at trans people’s expense is a serious offence. They’re like the guy who sexually harasses a woman co-worker and then complains that she can’t take a joke. They don’t give much thought to the things that have a negative impact on your life.

It’s encouraging that many people found Chappelle’s schtick distasteful, but the truth is there weren’t nearly enough of them. We live in transphobic societies. Despite the work of trans activists and the help of our supporters, change won’t come easily or quickly, but it will come. In my lifetime, I’ve seen changes I couldn’t imagine when I was young.

The struggle for rights and dignity is a long one, but slow and steady wins the race. Anger has a way of being self-defeating. Patience and persistence are better long term strategies. We can’t let these Chappelle moments discourage us. We’re on the right side of history, and I have no doubt that folks from the future won’t find him very funny.

(For a more thorough demolition of Netflix and Ted Sarandos, see this article written by Kathleen Newman-Bremang. Originally published by Refinery29 in the UK it has been re-posted by Yahoo.)