Dave Chapelle has a hilarious bit in his 2000 stand-up special, Killin’ Them Softly, about chicken—specifically about the racist conception that African Americans love chicken.
“I was in Mississippi,” he says in the opening of the monologue, “I was in Mississippi doing a show and I went to a restaurant to order some food, and I said to the guy: ‘I would like to have . . .’ and before I even finished my sentence he said ‘THE CHICKEN.’”
Chapelle holds a beat, and it feels like he’s about to lay into the presumably white waiter, but he doesn’t. “The man was absolutely right,” he continues. “How did he know that I was going to get some chicken?”
Today, Think Progress ran a story about comments Colorado state senator Vicki Marble at a meeting of the state’s Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force. As writer Josh Israel sums up her take on the economic woes in minority communities, Marble (R-Fort Collins) “delivered a long monologue suggesting that the reason for poverty among certain minority groups was that they eat too much chicken and barbecue.”
For her part, Marble is fond of using the term “black race” to refer to African Americans. As she sees it, “the black race” is genetically predisposed to poor health—there’s sickle cell anemia and diabetes, “something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup and you just can’t help it.”
She followed that up by saying, “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down south and you—I mean, I love it, everybody loves it.”
Chapelle recalls how the waiter responded to him after guessing, correctly and racist-ly, that Chapelle was going to order chicken. “Everybody knew as soon as you walked in the goddamn door that you were going to get the chicken,” he says, mocking a white, Southern accent. “It is no secret down here that blacks and chickens are quite fond of one and another.”
In his introduction to the chicken joke, Chapelle asked the audience, “Have you ever had something happen that was so racist you didn’t even get mad? You were just like: ‘Goddamn that was racist. That was racist!’” And throughout he talks about how the whole incident just made him upset—it was too much of a cliché he was being racially stereotyped with to get mad about.
Colorado State Representative Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), who is African American, responded quite differently to Marble’s comments. “The title for this committee is the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force; and one of the things I will not tolerate is racist and insensitive comments about African Americans, the color of their skin. You mentioned what we eat—I was highly offended by your remarks,” she said to the State Senator (KDVR has the full audio).
“I will not engage in a dialogue where I’m in the company where you are using the stereotype references about African Americans and chicken and food and all kinds of things. I will just not tolerate that.”