Amid a national and global debate about systematic racism and police brutality, Comedian Dave Chappelle released a surprise Netflix comedy special “8:46” last Thursday, June 11. Chappelle’s video, clocking in at 27 minutes and 20 seconds, came at a pivotal moment in United States history in which citizens grapple with a global pandemic, an economic crisis and social unrest over the murder of yet another unarmed black person. On May 25th, Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit twenty dollar bill.
The title of Chappelle’s viral special, “8:46”, marks the amount of time Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck. Floyd is far from the first or the last victim of police brutality, but his death sparked national debate and social unrest.
Chappelle’s special evinced the long and tragic history of black people dying at the hands of those sworn to protect them. In a strange twist of fate, the numbers “8”and “46” also signified the comedian’s time of birth (8:46 a.m.), which he shared with the audience during his impassioned set.
“I can’t get that time out of my head,” admitted Chappelle, struggling to reconcile the burdensome coincidence. It is his undeniable connection to Floyd that inspired Chappelle to use his platform to publicly tackle the injustice. It is also worth mentioning that he may be a celebrity, but he is, first and foremost, a black man in America.
Despite adding his voice to the chorus of others calling for change, Chappelle is unequivocal about his place in the crucial conversation. He affirmed that young activists are the true leaders who will incite national change in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement. This affirmation comes after CNN Journalist Don Lemon used his own platform to criticize celebrities and politicians for not discussing police brutality, race relations and/or the Black Lives Matter movement despite having influence and platforms on Sunday, May 31.
“Why aren’t you fighting for these young people?” questioned Lemon, condemning Hollywood elite, Republicans, Democrats, President Trump and other leaders whose voices, Lemon suggests, may ring out louder than that of the everyday citizen. Lemon acknowledged that young people have taken justice into their own hands. “Young people are out there because they are upset about what is happening in their country,” said Lemon. “They are taking the lead, stepping into the void and fighting for what is right.”
Lemon then characterized these young change agents as people who have “put themselves on the line, [who] have nothing and [who are] poor kids.” Immediately, Lemon drew a distinction between these aforementioned individuals and their older, richer counterparts. While wealthy celebrities and wealthy politicians are making excuses, it is the younger generations that are protesting peacefully, facilitating these difficult conversations and demanding real quantifiable change. Yet, Lemon continued his plea to celebrities, implying that input from celebrities and famous politicians is not only wanted but needed.
“Can you please help me?” asked Lemon, as he and his viewers watch hundreds and thousands of peaceful protestors, rioters and looters take to the streets. “The time is now,” he declared, demanding that leaders throughout the nation discuss these uncomfortable but necessary topics for the sake of solving the systematic issues deeply embedded in our country.
In his special, Chappelle, on the other hand, argued that young activists do not need celebrities like him. In fact, these passionate, intelligent and socially conscious individuals are more than capable of implementing change with or without the help of celebrities.
“I want to shout out all the young people who have had the courage to go out and do all this amazing work protesting,” Chappelle said from the very start of his special. “I am very proud of you.” Throughout his moving special, Chappelle celebrated and encouraged the work of millennials and members of Generation Z who have been advocating for justice and equality on the front lines of major cities across the nation. He called the younger generation “excellent drivers” and attested that he is “comfortable in the backseat of the car”.
Chappelle then took a moment to publicly criticize Lemon’s call to action centered around celebrities and other powerful social figures. “Does it matter about celebrity?” Chappelle asked the audience, before answering his own inquiry with gusto: “No! This is the streets talking for themselves. [Young activists] don’t need me right now.” While Chappelle refused to talk over the work of younger people, he recognized that some citizens want to hear his opinion as a celebrity because they trust celebrities.
“You don’t expect me to be perfect but I don’t lie to you,” Chappelle commented, acknowledging his honest and sincere relationship with his fans. “I’m just a guy and I don’t lie to you.” So, in effect, Chappelle did answer Lemon’s call for celebrities. Lemon himself went on to address this fact in his reaction to Chappelle’s special. “I actually agree with Dave Chappelle,” says Lemon the day after “8:46” aired. “The young people who are out there in the streets don’t really care what we have to say…They’re out there fighting.”
Since it’s release, Chappelle’s special “8:46” has garnered over 21 million views and its popularity is likely to continue. Chappelle’s praise of the younger generation is a bold nod to their tireless work, protesting and advocating for black lives. Famous people are not the ones being murdered on the streets, at parks, or in their homes. It is usually every day people who are dying. “The streets,” as Chappelle put it, are talking and it’s time for the voice of everyday people to carry as much, if not more, significance than that of celebrities. Young activists do not need permission to do what needs doing. And to those who marvel at the younger generation and their relentless approach, do not forget that young protesters must advocate with intention and resilience. After all, the future of the United States is rightfully theirs. They insist on protecting and improving upon their inheritance.