Though Chelsea Handler’s real sin may be the fact that she’s painfully unfunny, she managed to offend this week for another reason.
While guest live-tweeting for the Huffington Post during Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast, she provoked cries of racism at worst and racial insensitivity at best when, after Lupita Nyong’o was named the winner of the Oscar for best supporting actress, Handler plugged her own latest book in a “joke” about traveling to Africa, tweeting:
Then, to make matters worse—after taking some heat for it—she went on Good Morning America and proceeded to argue that she can’t be a racist because (drumroll, please) … “I date a lot of black people. So that would be a difficult thing to explain to them.”
And when I heard that, all I thought was: Here we go again.
Another high-profile white person gets in hot water for a racially charged remark and then chooses to deploy the Black Friend Defense. Only, in Handler’s case, this time it’s specifically the Black Boyfriend Defense.
Using your black friends to shield you is the tacky way out—no matter how you look at it. But it’s even worse hiding behind a sexual partner—particularly one whom you’ve admitted to denigrating when he wasn’t around.
It’s well-known that Handler once dated rapper 50 Cent, and she later admitted that during a disagreement they had over the fact that she was going to interview one of his ex-girlfriends on her talk show, she demeaned him in a way that, at least tangentially, had to do with race. As she told shock jock Howard Stern: “I think I called him the worst thing you could say to a black person, short of calling him the n-word. I said something like, ‘You’re like a street person,’ basically. Something along the lines of being a gangster, and it was really, really offensive and I hung up, and I’ve never spoken to him again.” She added, “When I told my friends what I said, they were like, ‘You will never hear from him. This is, like, a proud black man you basically tore apart and put to shame.’”
But in her mind, apparently, she bedded him, so there’s simply no way she was racist.
Which, of course, isn’t automatically the case. As I’ve noted before, by that logic, Thomas Jefferson, Strom Thurmond and every other white man in power who fathered children with black women weren’t racists, either. Only, I’m not so sure that those black women, their families or any of the other black people they were demeaning and discriminating against at the same time would agree.