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Oscars So Chris Rock: The Monologue Was Funny But Missed the Point

"Black people aren't just busy enduring pain, we're also able to celebrate our good-ass actors who do great work in great films."

Chris Rock's opening monologue at the 88th Academy Awards was kind of like listening to a Macklemore album. The people who need to hear the message aren't going to get it. When Macklemore dropped "White Privilege II," the Internet mostly responded with resounding confusion. That's, of course, because the Internet is "woke." The Internet didn't need Macklemore's song, because we talk about intersectionality on the Internet and follow Matt McGorry, so we know all about racial injustice and seek to stomp out white privilege wherever it stands. If this is an oversimplification of "hashtag activism" as it's been branded by some, that's because it's meant to be. Because Chris's monologue was the very definition of an oversimplification.

I get it. Macklemore makes songs about white privilege that are intended to appeal to white people who don't understand their privilege. Chris Rock's speech was supposed to do the same: appeal to everyone in Hollywood who doesn't understand racism. Doing so would have probably required some nuance beyond mentioning that black people weren't worried about Oscar wins in the '60s because they were busy being "lynched" and "hanging from trees"; it was funny and I cackled, but it's also besides the point. It assumes that black people can't worry about recognition from their peers while they're dealing with the terror of living in the Jim Crow–era South, which also insinuates that we should be worried about other things like police brutality instead of pesky things like Oscars. But here's the thing: White women have been nominated for Oscars throughout their fight for equal pay. Jewish Americans were still nominated for Oscars when America was fighting Hitler in Europe. Black people aren't just busy enduring pain, we're also able to celebrate our good-ass actors who do great work in great films.

Rock's speech was obviously supposed to hit the right notes to make a few rich white people uncomfortable, but also to elicit claps when he implored them to hire more black people. The white audience members of the Oscars dutifully clapped before they finished their evening and returned to their all-white movie sets the next day. For someone who called out Jude Law in 2005 for seeming to star in every movie released in theaters that year, there was no similar calling-out of individual high-profile actors who claim to be pro-equality but never work with black people on their films (hi, George Clooney).

In that respect, the monologue reverted to safe jokes that, while "shocking," are easy enough to laugh at without having to think too hard. That's why the audience laughed at the lynching jokes (no one does that anymore!) but not at the police brutality jokes (too soon!!!!). But whatever, it's the Oscars. And it's mostly broadcasting to a white audience, so why not take the Macklemore approach and preach to the choir while hoping some new people join the congregation? Chris's speech is forgivable.

What's unforgivable, however, is him allowing Stacey Dash to sashay her tanned Malibu Stacey act across the Oscars stage as a "joke" about Black History Month. Jokes about lynching are mere medicinal marijuana to the crack cocaine of having Stacey Dash sprung upon you.

CORRECTION (2/29/16, 10:58 a.m. ET): The original version of this story misstated when women were granted the right to vote. It was in 1920, nine years before the first Oscar ceremony in 1929.

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