Chris Rock: ‘If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.’

REUTERS/Mike Segar
Chris Rock: "So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress."

Writing for New York magazine, Frank Rich interviews Chris Rock. If you read the whole thing, your estimation of Rock as a social critic and political analyst will rise, and, of course, he’s kinda funny too, but edgy funny. Here are a few highlights:

Rich asks Rock whether income inequality is “the elephant in the room.”

Rock Replies: “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.”

Rich asks what Rock thinks about Barack Obama as president, hinting that “there’s a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he’s disengaged…”

Rock: “I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?

“…He’s the first cable-television president, and the thing liberals don’t like about Obama is that he’s a network guy. He’s kind of [long-time CBS chief] Les Moonves. He’s trying to get everybody. And I think he’s figured out, and maybe a little late, that there’s some people he’s never going to get.”

On Obama as opposed to George W. Bush:

Rock: “There’s an advantage that Bush had that Obama doesn’t have. People thinking you’re dumb is an advantage. Obama started as a genius. It’s like, What? I’ve got to keep doing that? That’s hard to do! So it’s not that Obama’s disappointing. It’s just his best album might have been his first album.”

On the improvement of life in America for blacks:

Rock: “I’m more optimistic than you, but maybe it’s because I live the way I do. I just have a great life, so it’s easier for me to say things are great. But not even me. My brothers drive trucks and stock shelves. They live in a much better world than my father did. My mother tells stories of growing up in Andrews, South Carolina, and the black people had to go to the vet to get their teeth pulled out. And you still had to go to the back door, because if the white people knew the vet had used his instruments on black people, they wouldn’t take their pets to the vet. This is not some person I read about. This is my mother.”

Comparing how fast the progress for gay rights has been compared to black civil rights:

Rock: “I always call Ellen DeGeneres the gay Rosa Parks. If Rosa Parks had one of the most popular daytime TV shows, I’m sure the civil-rights movement would’ve moved a little bit faster too.”

On why we shouldn’t use the terms “race relations” or “racial progress”:

Rock: “Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before….

“So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

Forgiving Bill Clinton for going after Obama during the 2008 campaign for the Dem nomination:

Rock: “He’s a dick, but you’re talking about a guy who’s embarrassed his wife. So he had a choice, and I couldn’t judge him. I had to choose between pissing off all the black people in the world or having my wife mad at me? Then the hell with the black people, because he doesn’t live with all the black people. He lives with his wife.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/04/2014 - 10:29 am.

    I swear, the funnier the comic, the smarter they are. Chris Rock is spot-on here. I was hoping Minnpost would pick this interview up- thank you Eric.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/04/2014 - 11:32 am.

      Smart comics

      Good comedians are typically pretty smart – it’s really almost a requirement for good comedy.

      And that’s one reason Al Franken has turned out to be such a good Senator – he’s a smart guy, too!

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/04/2014 - 01:26 pm.

        True Story

        Comedy allows, nay, forces one to approach all sides of any story, comment, or issue, and to look at it in different lights. Comedy and irony can illustrate certain truths that are ineffable in nature… probably why The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, and The Colbert Report are so highly regarded in their work. It’s also why Al Franken is able to be so nuanced and informed on the issues he cares about.

  2. Submitted by jody rooney on 12/04/2014 - 03:52 pm.

    I think he is wrong about poor people

    I think if the true middle class realized that they weren’t ever get ahead and how much these people have and how little of it comes from good work or merit rather than cronyism they would join the poor folks

  3. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 12/05/2014 - 09:21 am.

    Chris Rock is a

    wise fellow; comedy wit; a cynic to fit the times.

    But there are already riots in the streets Chris… by the poor, the almost poor and the would be poor..

    I like his style.

  4. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 12/07/2014 - 08:27 am.

    …and then again, think twice “White Nice’/

    …consider also the not so nice critique of Chris Rock on Salon.com by Tim Wise of ALTERNET…” What Chris Rock got wrong; “Nice” white people perpetuate white supremacy”? But whatever one concludes from Tim Wise …

    The discussion covers all the ways of looking at “White Nice” white people which leads one to ponder on “Minnesota Nice” which is another label that squeezes the issue into wondering how too nice is the mind of C.Rock. Let’s just say it’s always good to read another point of view and one less positive picture of humor of the man which pleases “Nice” white people…maybe so?

    Never develop too many certainties or they will come back to bite you…but if you have an open mind and thoughts on’ “Minnesota Nice” do rise now, like sour milk at this point so I will say no more…

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