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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

A comedy of errors

Almost 10 years ago, Dave Chappelle walked away from his hit Comedy Central TV show and $50 million dollars, in part because his audience didn’t “get it.”

Chappelle wanted us to laugh at racism, but too many of us were laughing with it.

It’s a common problem in comedy: The artist’s intent can get lost in the space between the stage and the audience, leaving listeners to create their own meaning.

Exaggerating black stereotypes becomes an endorsement instead of a critique.

A joke about rape culture is misunderstood to ridicule the victim.

An attempt to dissect white privilege becomes a celebration of it.

Even the smartest comedian can’t account for the dumbest audience member.

Some, such as Chappelle, choose to wait until the audience catches up.

Whether or not to reclaim harmful words is a similar dilemma.

The IDS has run several columns in the past debating the merits of reclamation.

Lexia Banks insisted that “blacks using the n-word is still racist,” while Sam Ostrowski encouraged us to “keep saying faggot.”

I’ve walked in Bloomington’s Slut Walk, ironically taking on the moniker to mock a Canadian policeman’s ignorance.

I love slang words for female genitalia, becasue why should they be bad?

I’ve engaged in my fair share of reclamation, but I’m not sure it’s helping anyone.

This summer I went abroad, thrown together with tens of strangers who became my support system for two months.

Early on, I noticed we tossed the word “slut” around a lot. Like Chappelle, I started to worry that some of these people didn’t “get it.”

Most of us are not comedians, at least not professionally, but we all have an audience.

We have people who listen to us, people who take cues from the words we use and how we use them.

However judgment-free my “slutty” is intended to be, people who don’t know me well lack the context for understanding.

At best I might look like a hypocrite, and at worst I seem to be endorsing negative attitudes about female sexuality and sex work.

Proffering “pussy” and “cunt” as acceptable nouns around strangers might allow them as adjectives in ways I hadn’t anticipated, my alternative usage inadvertently permitting those entrenched in sexism.

In certain contexts, this is never a concern. Among an in-group that is struggling with the merits of reclamation together, this risk of misunderstanding starts to vanish.

Many black people agree they can say the n-word among each other.

The f-word can work similarly among gay people.

Most attendees of Slut Walk understand this slut’s intent, whether or not they agree with it.

But if the goal of reclamation is to change a harmful word into a celebratory one, this kind of group-specific meaning hardly seems effective.

To society at large, these words remain hateful symbols of oppression and disgust.

I’m not certain how much responsibility we can really take for the ways in which our words are misunderstood.

Dave Chappelle, for his part, took a $50-million pay cut and a trip to South Africa.

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