Chelsea Handler's #BarbLivesMatter Joke Is So Tone Deaf

On the latest episode of her Netflix show, Chelsea Handler taps into the Stranger Things fan frenzy. Chelsea surprised the show's child stars — Millie Bobby Brown, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo — with a special Stranger Things guest: Shannon Purser, who played Barb.

The tribute to the deceased character was nice enough. Barb amassed a surprise cult following, and the actress commented on the unexpectedness of her character's popularity. Purser also brought out a cake to celebrate Caleb McLaughlin's 14th birthday, which was sweet.

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But then came an awkward moment: Chelsea's tone deaf #BlackLivesMatter joke. "We came up with a new hashtag," she said, referencing the public mourning of Barb's death on the show. "#BarbLivesMatter."
Handler's words were dismissive of the larger seriousness of the hashtag and movement she referenced. There are plenty of funny ways to talk about Stranger Things and Barb that don't use institutional police brutality against Black bodies as a punchline. Black Lives Matter is a movement, #BarbLivesMatter is a joke; Handler likely recognizes and understands this, but she chose to ignore the distinction.

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This Stranger Things comment comes on the heels of other racially insensitive jokes by prominent white female comedians. Last week, Lena Dunham projected her own body insecurities onto football player Odell Beckham Jr, tapping into racist assumptions about Black men having predatory sexuality. Amy Schumer also tweeted and deleted a racist comment generalizing street harassers as Black men. Even in jest, these comments are crass and cutting. Handler — along with Dunham and Schumer — are showing themselves to either be unaware of conversations about race and social justice in this country, or willfully ignoring those topics. Given Handler’s play on words, it seems to be the latter: They know how much language matters and are choosing to do harm with theirs.

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