This was written by Mychal Denzel Smith at Salon.com:
In 1996, Chris Rock told a joke. Granted, he told a number of jokes, because he’s a comedian and that’s literally his job. But he only told one joke that would come to serve as the basis of analysis for a generation of would-be sociologists and pseudo-black-intellectuals everywhere.
“I love black people, but I hate n–gers.”
The joke here being that there is a subset of black people that are gleefully uneducated, take pride in their criminal activities, and serve as the clumsy sidekick in black America’s plan for liberation. If it weren’t for them, the n–gers, we’d all be free.
“I hide my money in books. Why? Because n–gers don’t read.”
The n–gers aren’t just unworthy of basic levels of respect, they deserve open contempt and ridicule. Because, well, just look at them!
On the strength of this joke, the centerpiece of his HBO special “Bring the Pain,” Chris Rock became a household name, and the “black people vs. n–gers” debate became as divisive as Malcolm vs. Martin.
Of course, the substance of what Rock said wasn’t new. It hewed to the same line of respectability politics that had been a part of black political life since the days of Reconstruction. Even W.E.B. Du Bois, perhaps the most important sociologist in all of American history, posited a theory for black liberation that rested on the idea that 90 percent of black people ain’t shit and could only be saved by the “talented tenth.” He later abandoned that idea, but it got stuck in our collective imagination nonetheless. Rock’s language was different, and jarring, offering a legitimacy to the use of a racist slur to describe a class of people, but even that wasn’t new. After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X reportedly said, “We had the best organization the black man has ever had. N–gers ruined it.” Malcolm’s context was different, but the rhetoric is still in line with the idea that it’s the bad black people who ruin things for the good black people.
And every now and then some black public figure will reignite this debate by repeating these tired tropes that traffic in racist assumptions of black life and culture. Enter Charles Barkley.