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Ethics Dunce: Dave Chappelle | Ethics Alarms


I hate to call comic Dave Chappelle a weenie and a political correctness panderer, so instead I’ll settle for Ethics Dunce. He badly miscalculated here.

Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C. had planned to rename its performance theater —I once co-wrote directed a show there!—after alumnus Dave Chappelle for his “ongoing commitment and service to the school.” Chappell, fresh off of his controversial Netflix concert that was attacked for its jokes about transsexual activism, appeared at the school in November and faced a barrage of criticism from predictably oriented students. He challenged opponents of his work and his advocates to compete to raise the most money for Duke Ellington, promising to abide by the winning group’s wishes regarding the performing space’s new name.

Well, his fans out-raised the pro-trans mob, but nonetheless, at the dedication of the newly-named theater this week, Chappelle announced that he would refuse the honor, and declared that the theater would be henceforward called “the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.”

In spare comments explaining his reasoning, Chappelle said he was “hurt” by the student comments in November, and would be open to putting his name on the building in the future. His decision apparently is based on his conclusion that naming the theater after him would encourage ongoing controversy.

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That’s nice. But if he really believes in artistic expression, he should not be encouraging the “cancelling” of individuals who have controversial points of view by caving to critics. As it stands now, the name of the theater is hypocrisy itself. It takes the place of an honor to an actual artist whose name has been removed because students and others wanted his art and speech to be censored.

There are other ethical problems with Chappelle’s decision. It’s a bait and switch: funds were raised based on the understanding that his name would go on the theater. Furthermore, if he renamed the theater himself, that wasn’t his prerogative.

Duke Ellington should rename the theater after Ricky Gervais.



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