On the Fourth of July, our nation’s Independence Day, actor and comedian Chris Rock posted the following statement: “Happy White Peoples’ Independence Day. The slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks.” This statement stirred up a controversy, with people fighting for both sides of the does this post cross the line debate.
Does this comment cross the line? My opinion is yes, yes it does.
Why? Well, a tweet by Elon James White asks (in regards to the factuality of Rock’s tweet), “…Is he wrong? IS. HE. WRONG?” And the answer is yes, Chris Rock is wrong.
But the slaves weren’t freed until January 1, 1865, so how is Rock’s statement invalid?
Because he assumes Independence Day is a direct celebration of personal freedom. It’s not. The Fourth of July celebrates the day our nation declared its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776 (Source) . In fact, the so-called “white people” Chris Rock is referring to didn’t achieve their independence until September 3, 1783 when both sides signed the treaty of Paris (Source).
His comment also ignores the fact that not all African Americans were slaves during revolutionary times, and that many other groups have fought (and are still fighting) for equal rights. Without our independence, it is likely that many of these rights that were achieved would not have been–and that’s why we celebrate.
I took a class with the late Todd Lynn, who had his own half hour Comedy Central Presents special and has appeared on the Tonight Show. He told the group, “if you’re going to say something offensive, make sure it’s funny.” One important aspect of a joke that’s funny is some element of truth. Unfortunately, knowing the actual history of Independence Day takes the funny out of Rock’s joke (because there isn’t truth), and what we’re left with is just (more or less) a racist comment.
Now, Chris Rock has always been a controversial comedian, and comments saying this fits his persona are certainly true. I should also note that I have the utmost respect for Chris Rock and everything he has done for comedy during his career. I just think he made a mistake here.