Chris Rock: Niggas vs. Black People

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Chris Rock

Niggas vs. Black people

This paper addresses the identity that is constructed of African-Americans through Rock’s language use of racial speech and taboo language. It also attempts to portray Rock’s function of the skit and the controversial attitudes that arose, including my own.

1.0 Introduction

‘Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you’. Unfortunately for Randall Kennedy this limerick held no connotation that he wished to acknowledge, as he recites his Mother’s words, he finds himself in war with a word, a word that for every African-American is at the core of inflicted pain; Nigger. Kennedy narrates his Mother’s experience during the era of the Jim Crow segregation, ‘I have been called nigger to my face on a couple of occasions by people who sought to convey their racial hatred or contempt for all blacks including me.’ (Kennedy, 2002) This word for Centuries, although has been at the centre of normalisation and empowerment in recent years, is the definition of prejudice assigned by white supremacists. Racial discourse has changed over the years, the media has been at the frontline of these changes along with the law and democratic societies yet the word nigger still remains a temperamental taboo, its history foreshadows it and no matter what context the word may be used in, its cultural inheritance warrants its preservation. (Kennedy, 2000:3) A man that attempted to manipulate its detrimental meaning was the illustrious comedian Chris Rock. Rock is known for his politically incorrect humour and his fight to tackle racism and his 1996 HBO special, Bring the Pain performance is what give him his contentious status today. ‘Niggas vs. Black people’ is a twist on street culture vs. working class; it is a linguistically controversial skit that portrays how boorish behaviour feeds racial stereotypes while including his own personal assessment of the state of Black America. Rock empowers the word nigger and attempts to change its injurious meaning. The pain this word has caused the African-American community has been an expedient one, compromising the dignity, identity and representation of their race. Rock intends to fight and abolish the pain and with this is calls his performance, ‘Bring the pain’. 2.0 Laughing Matters

The intrusion of laughter is an ideal that is sought after by many comedians; it is the notion of laughter that holds profound significance amongst its audience. It gives society and the individual access to the truth, truths which become identifiable from a different view point, ‘laughter serves as a means to understand both what is found in the world and what is found within the individual.’ (Gray & Putnam, 2009:18). Without laughter fear would not be defeated and fears of the truth would not be overcome, with this society becomes reliant on laughter, it gives a sense of belonging, understanding and serves as a joint understanding and belief. (Clark, 1996) This idea of the truth is based upon Bahktin’s theoretical view on laughter, as Gray and Putnam (2009: 18) state, ‘Laughter is also a defence mechanism against external realities that contradict our inner truths.’ These truths and fears are identified with concepts such as, racism, politics and feminism. 2.1 Encapsulating the audience

To capture Daniels’ (1989: 15) phrase when discussing the subjectivity of humour, ‘it’s funny because it makes me laugh’, highlights individual social ideologies, each individual has their own set of attitudes and beliefs and this therefore contributes to the success of an anecdote, whether or not it fits with ideological views is at the core of an audiences’ hilarity. It would be deemed accurate to acknowledge that comedy is maintained and controlled with ideological boundaries in mind however at the same time, the genius of comedy derives down to comedians pushing these boundaries, this disrupts social order and it advocates...
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