Karla Peterson: How Dave Chappelle, a poetry podcast and a Bruce Springsteen playlist are talking about racism

Karla Peterson, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Just over a month ago, George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis. In the turbulent weeks that followed, the country has been rocked by protests and roiled by calls for change in a world where too many Black men and women are killed because of their skin color.

In the midst of the tumult, some voices have emerged from the zeitgeist with words and music that captured the moment and also explained the moment. Here is what these searchers, seekers and scholars had to say about racism, violence and where we need to go from here.

Dave Chappelle, "8:46"

"This is not funny at all," comedian Dave Chappelle says near the end of "8:46," his new Netflix special. And he is not joking.

Filmed in June during a live, socially distanced show in Yellow Springs, Ohio, this bare-bones performance -- which Netflix is streaming for free on its YouTube channel -- is Chappelle's raw and furious response to Floyd's death. "It's not for a single cop," he says of the marches, protests and upheavals that have erupted over the last few weeks. "It's for all of it."

From the horrific deaths of Philando Castile and Eric Garner to his own mixed feelings about weighing in on this cataclysmic moment, Chappelle covers a lot of historical and emotional territory in 27 searing minutes. But he is at his most eloquently outraged when he talks about his great-grandfather, William D. Chappelle, who went to the White House in 1918 as part of a group protesting violence against Black people.


In addition to being a bishop with the A.M.E. Church and the president of Allen University, Chappelle's great-grandfather was also born a slave. And in connecting the sins of our past with the crimes of the present, Chappelle puts the current wave of unrest and the call for a national reckoning into painful and necessary context.

"These things are not old," he says. "This is not a long time ago. It's today." (YouTube)

Tracy K. Smith, "The Slowdown" podcast

Always a source of illumination and inspiration, this podcast from former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith devoted the earlier part of this month to poems tackling social justice, oppression and racism and celebrated Black lives. Even at their darkest, the poems burn with urgent heat and the light of insight.


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