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Black Bush Analysis

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Black Bush Analysis

Chappelle wants to show how the decisions made by President George W. Bush might have been more scrutinized had he been a black man. While setting the scene for this sketch he explains,

If our President were black, we would not be at war right now. Not because a black person wouldna done something like that, it’s because America wouldn’t let a black person do something like that without asking them a million questions. Ya know, they always do polls like “Minorities just don’t seem to trust the government.” Because you don’t understand what it looks like for us, so let me help paint the picture.

Season 2, Episode 13, April 14, 2004

This description by Chappelle illustrates that he has two intentions with this sketch. The first is to show what it would be like if President Bush were black. The second is what the political system looks like to minorities. Chappelle even switches to his “white” voice (the voice that he always uses in sketches when he is portraying a white character) when he says the sentence “Minorities just don’t seem to trust the government.” He makes this switch during the monologue when he is not in character—he is simply himself at this moment. This provides further evidence of his feelings that minorities are not represented by the government or the political process. His intentions of what he hopes to show are made clear even before the sketch begins.

The “folk” that view this might come away with several conclusions about AAVE. First, a viewer that is not very familiar with AAVE might assume that speakers use AAVE when they are upset, angry, or emotional. As Black Bush is peppered with questions from the White House reporters, he often gets frustrated and uses AAVE to vent his frustration. Second, it can be assumed from watching this that a speaker of AAVE can seamlessly switch back and worth between Standard English and AAVE. Because Black Bush easily makes the transition back and forth between SE and AAVE, the “folk” might assume that AAVE is simply a tool that speakers can use when they want to and that it is not a dialect that people speak all the time. Lastly, the “folk” could assume that AAVE speakers use many derogatory terms such as “nigga” and “bitch”. That happens often in this sketch and one might assume that derogatory terms are a common part of AAVE.

“The lead up to war”

Black Bush:              After carefully examining the region me and my cabinet agree that that area is definitely ripe for regime change…but if I can be real about it?

Cabinet Member:    Be real, son.

Black Bush:              Real?

Cabinet Member:    Be real real, son.

Black Bush:              He tried to kill my father, man. I don’t play that shit!

Cabinet Member:    Yo say word he tried to kill your father, son.

Black Bush: (grabbing the microphone from above): THE NIGGA TRIED TO KILL MY FATHER!!

Cabinet Member:    Word to everything we love we comin’ to see yall, son!

In this opening scene, the viewer is introduced to Black Bush and there are some linguistic elements to note. He starts off the scene in which he is answering a question to reporters about the reasons for invading Iraq. He starts off by speaking a standard variety of English while answering the question when he is explaining his desire to invade Iraq. However, he switches to AAVE to state the “real” reason that he wants to invade Iraq. He even asks if he can be real about it and is urged by his cabinet member to be real about it. Black Bush jumps up and grabs the microphone and yells, “THE NIGGA TRIED TO KILL MY FATHER!!” This switch from the less important “regime change” answer to the more important fact that Saddam Hussein tried to kill his father is a topic-related shift. Baugh’s (1983) examination of the data from Labov’s research states, “When emotions ran especially high some consultants resorted to more standardized speech, while others made deeper shifts into the vernacular.” (p. 60) Black Bush seems to shift into the AAVE because this is an emotional and personal matter. This is emphasized even further when Black Bush stands up and grabs the microphone and yells into it. The language shift and his actions illustrate that this is an important personal matter that he wants to deal with by invading Iraq.

In this scene, along with several others in the sketch, the denigration of the term “nigga” is used.  As Smitherman (1999) points out in Talkin’ that Talk, it is important to look at the context in which this term is used. In the context of this sketch, “nigga” is used as a denigrative term. She explains that when “nigga” is being used for denigration, it can be referring to someone who is “lazy, trifling, scheming or wrong-doing” (p. 62) Black Bush uses this term to refer to Saddam Hussein. A visibly upset and angered Black Bush yells, “THE NIGGA TRIED TO KILL MY FATHER!!” This choice of term shows that Black Bush feels that Saddam Hussein has done something wrong (tried to kill his father) and therefore uses this particular term when he switches to AAVE.

“Saddam Captured”

Black Reporter:      Mr. President. Mr. President, sir. How do you explain the continual upheaval in Iraq even after the capture of Saddam Hussein?

Black Bush:              Why you doin’ this man? I thought yous my black brother. Why yous aks me questions like dat?

In this scene, the idea of speech communities and communities of practice are introduced. In the build up to this scene, Black Bush has had to answer many questions about the war from reporters. Here, a black reporter poses a question to him. In order to create an even greater distance between Black bush and the black reporter, the black reporter overtly uses SE with his speech and intonation. The actor was most likely directed to ask the question in an overt manner, especially the intonation he uses with the phrase “even after the capture of Saddam Hussein.” Even to a “folk” viewer, this utterance sounds peculiar. Black Bush is disappointed because he expected that this “black” reporter would not ask him questions such as the one he posed. The manner in which the black reporter asked his question suggests that the two men exist in different speech communities. To emphasize the differences further, Black Bush uses AAVE quite overtly in his response (just like the black reporter did with SE), which shows the social distance between the two men.

From a sociolinguistic prospective, we can also say that they exist in different communities of practice. It’s not only how the reporter asks his question, it’s why he asked the question as a black man that has Black Bush disappointed. Black Bush had falsely assumed that race would be a determining factor in speech and attitude that the black reporter would have. Black Bush asks him “Why you doin’ this man?” This shows that he is obviously disappointed that someone from his own race would ask him a question like this. Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2006) state, “a community of practice develops ways of dong things, views, values, power relations, ways of talking” (p. 1) It is apparent that, although they are the same race, they exist in different communities of practice. Communities of practice are not determined by race but Black Bush falsely assumed this to be the case.