The Niggar Family
Let?s face it, last names are pretty important. At some point in history, they determined where in society you were placed and the respect you received. Therefore imagine having a not so popular last name, well Chappelle does this in his sketch ?The Niggar Family? where a 1950s family has inherited an ?unfortunate? last name: Niggar. It?s ironic that they?re an all-white family, and although their last name isn?t spelled exactly like the racial slur, it sure does sound like it. This sketch is a part of Chappelle?s Show, created by none other than Dave Chappelle himself. His show revolved around speaking up about the uncomfortable and incorporating sensible humor into it regardless of the topic. This particular sketch deals with the inclusion of a term that everyone relates to and understands its background, but are simply afraid to talk about it. Chappelle brilliantly was able to get this word to be aired and even though it felt wrong saying it, that was the point.
The Niggar?s family yard sign
The skit is filmed in black and white and with the way the characters are dressed and the scenario, it looks like something out of the sitcom Leave it to Beaver, which was popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, these elements reinforce the era they want to portray that they?re in. The opening song lays out the first racist aspect that is encountered. ?These are the Niggars that we like,? is a line from the song and by including this it hints that there must be ?Niggars? that we don?t like. This family is a squeaky-clean American family and therefore they are what we ?like? and anything not fitting this family?s stencil won?t be accepted, yet it can be interpreted as referring to the original racial slur and that since society stereotypes them they aren?t liked, but this family is the exception because they are the complete opposite of those stereotypes.
?N-I-G, G-A-R, it?s the Niggar Family. We all know, who they are, Frank, Tim, and Emily. Teaching Tim how to ride a bike, these are the Niggars that we like. N-I-G, G-A-R, it?s the Niggar Family, it?s the Niggar Family. Yeahhhhh.?
The Niggar Family around the breakfast table
The Niggar family includes Frank (Dad), Emily (Mom) and Tim (son) and the first scene takes place at the breakfast table where Mr. Niggar is talking to his wife about his sister?s new baby. Mrs. Niggar brings up the baby?s lips and comments, ?She?s got those Niggar lips,? and there?s an outburst of laughter. The whole skit plays on the N-word; black people are typically characterized by plump lips and what she means is that it?s probably a distinctive feature in her husband?s family but since their last name is being played off of the racial slur it sounds as if she?s saying that the baby is colored.
?What?! Oh, god, no?
Tim eventually shows up at the table and lets his parents know he won?t be present at their dinner party later that evening because he has a date with a girl he fancies. We are then shown another family around a breakfast table, which is the family of the girl Tim is taking on a date. Her mother tells the father, ?Jenny has a date tonight with the Niggar boy from school.? To which he responds, ?What?! Oh, god, no? but Jenny clears it up by adding, ?No, Daddy, that?s his name: Timmy Niggar.? Just by the sound of the last name the father had already associated it with the boy being colored and immediately displayed his disapproval of it with his remark. When Jenny adds that it?s simply his name it relieves her dad?s worry indirectly about the possibility of the boy being anything other than white. This makes a great difference to him because he follows up by saying, ?Oh, of course. That Niggar ? he?s a very good athlete, and so well-spoken. That family?s going places. I mean, we?re rich; they?re Niggar-rich.? The simple identification of the last name distinguishes Tim?s family which relates back to the importance of last names and how they are considered to be an identifying factor for a person.
Just when we thought it couldn?t get more racial, Clifton walks in. Clifton is the Niggar?s colored milkman, played by Dave Chappelle. He walks in and greets them with, ?Morning, Niggars.? and Frank responds with, ?Why, it?s Clifton, our colored milkman.? It?s already obvious to the audience that Clifton clearly isn?t white, but Mr. Niggar points it out either way. Clifton is amazed with this family and doesn?t miss a chance to shout out their name: ?This is my favorite family to deliver milk to, the Niggars.? This is where the joke is truly exposed, everyone else is aware of the name and the negative connotation that goes along with it, and also the irony of the family being white; Clifton is in on the joke as well because he really emphasizes their last name and uses any opportunity he gets to say it because of how funny it is that a white family could have a last name sounding like the derogative slur of colored people.
?This rascism is ?killing? me?
In a later scene, Clifton and his wife run into Tim and Jenny at the restaurant where they?re having dinner. The hostess calls out ?Niggar, party of two,? and Clifton calls him out on being racist but Tim interrupts before Clifton gets any further and recognizes that the hostess is calling out his last name. Clifton eventually realizes this and tells Tim, ?I bet you?ll get the finest table a nigger?s ever got in this restaurant.? and follows it with, ?Oh, Lord; this racism is killin? me inside.? This is the jokes overall punchline because the whole time Clifton is calling out the family on their name and comes up with jokes throughout the whole skit about it and then he purposely says the original N-word rather than Tim?s last name, because white folk were given the best in life during this time and colored people weren?t given the same luxuries. So even if colored folk won?t get the best seating, Tim whose last name sounds so similar to ?nigger? will be the closest reference to blacks that will be able to get priority seating. This whole time the racism behind it all is ?killing? Clifton because they don?t realize what?s truly going on.
This skit from Chappelle?s show is so iconic because the uneasiness that it causes is masked by laughter. His skill and talent for comedy enabled him to execute the skit and have it be successful, but unfortunately Chappelle walked away from it all especially what he knew best, comedy. Dave Chappelle didn?t want his audience taking what he was doing the wrong way. They didn?t understand what he was trying to do; the message he wanted to get across. He didn?t want people to justify their teasing to be backed up by his work, because then that would just take away from the purpose. His decision is entirely understandable, the ?Niggar Family? clearly displays how something so serious can be taken lightly. Chappelle didn?t want any misinterpretations and therefore decided to leave his show to take time off and think of what he could do to really get his message across.
?Oh, Lord; this racism is killin? me inside.?