The Last Chappelle Show? -- by General Baker, August 2006
The last week's episode of Chappelle's Show finally let us in to Dave's internal conflict about his elusive and controversial blackface sketch; a large factor in spurring his abandonment of the show.
The particular skit contradictorily demonstrates, on the one hand, Chappelle's amazing insight into the civil war taking place within the minds of people concerning race and, on the other hand, how ugly racism can become.
It begins on an airplane where Chappelle is asked by a stewardess whether he would prefer chicken or fish for his in-flight dinner. Immediately the blackface pixie appears, and in true minstrel fashion, encourages him to opt for chicken. Playing it safe and avoiding the stereotype he chooses fish...until suddenly they realize they are out of fish and Dave must succumb to his unlikely friend.
The pixie advances through various stages and scenarios: from the black minstrel, to a Latino who is pressured to purchase leopard skin seat covers (which comes with a free Jesus air freshener), an Asian, and even a white pixie; although the white version definitely misses the mark.
One of the most significant skits of this particular sketch takes place at a party where an Asian guest is introduced to a white woman named "Lala". When the Asian pixie surfaces adorned in feudal Chinese garb, with exaggerated eyebrows, teeth, and facial hair, and an accent incapable of pronouncing L's, it urges him to say, "Herro, Rara." He denies it power by saying, "Hello, gorgeous." The pixie becomes angry and, dramatically drawing his sword (because Asians carry those), proceeds to stab himself to death as though signifying his defeat.
I couldn't help but to think of Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, especially chapter five (I think) where Fanon goes on this long, drawn-out existential trip about rejecting his "Negritude", or the inherent value in blackness. Not that this skit attempts to place inherent value in Asian culture, but that it reflects, again, those competing tendencies at war within each of us and the struggle of the two to overcome the other.
The episode immediately takes a turn for the worse, however, when it flashes to an MTV Cribs episode of the Ying-Yang Twinz. It damn near brings tears to your eyes when one of the "Twinz" holds up a statue of a monkey while the other provides its soundtrack, all the while Chappelle's pixie makes an abhorrent mockery of them.
At the end of the episode (and I imagine we got a highly edited version of it) the makeshift hosts, Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings, facilitate an open dialogue with the audience about their feelings of the show and racial stereotypes in general. One young black man made an excellent point about white being the "generic" race, meaning the general status quo that folks of color have to adapt themselves to.
Despite the horrible shortcomings of the show (which is possibly Chappelle's basis for fleeing to Africa), it is quite possible that this episode is the most advanced contribution to racial dialogue since The Richard Pryor Show 25 years earlier. It is an emotional roller coaster which takes you from laughter, to tears, to awe and we should welcome it all.