I’ve been told to be mad at you, but to be honest, I just can’t bring myself to do so. If I’m being honest, I find you more pitiful than hateful.
The media, by and large, wants me to hate you.
But, I’m not going to do that.
If there’s one thing hate is good at, it’s sucking all of the nuance out of the room.
Granted, I’m not sure that having the nuance will make you think about Roseanne or ABC, the network that canceled her show, any differently.
But, I think that maybe there’s a chance we can use this situation to ask bigger questions about the world as a whole. And I think it’s a good test case for the criteria that I laid out in the previous article about Colin Kaepernick concerning when it was appropriate to fire someone for exercising their constitutional rights. Most of all, I want to figure out what exactly makes the situation Roseanne Barr created different from the one Colin Kaepernick is in right now.
I think the answers to these questions can help us become more consistent in how we apply our beliefs. And, we can’t do that unless we choose to really understand situations.
With that in mind, Roseanne tweeted the following a few nights ago:
As CNN points out, this tweet was actually a reply.
“Barr was responding to a comment about Valerie Jarrett, a top aide to President Obama.”
It’s not a very nice tweet. Is it racist?
I had to do a lot of research to make sense of this tweet.
While I think this article makes a lot of unjustified claims, it does show a long history of disparaging black people by comparing them to monkeys or apes. The vast majority of the references date from the 16th century to about 1950, with a concentration in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Which makes me wonder if there is an expiration date for slurs at which they lose their power because they are no longer in general usage. We recycle words all the time. “Monkey” and “ape” are words that we still use, and I was unaware of their racial connotation prior to writing this article.
I’m not saying that what Roseanne wrote was a good thing, but rather that it’s nowhere near the most racist thing said on the Internet in recent times. Taken at face value, I remain unconvinced that it’s an explicitly racist tweet, but I understand where those who believe it is are coming from.
Instead, I see a disparaging tweet about someone’s looks.
Even if true, what Roseanne wrote was super mean. Generally speaking, I think that there’s no humor to be found in making fun of people’s characteristics that they cannot change. Race, gender, appearance, and intelligence fall on this list.
I don’t think she should have said what she said.
But, it appears that Roseanne was joining in on a conversation in progress where people were already making fun of Valerie Jarrett. Thus, I think she contributed to something already in progress rather than waking up one day and deciding to target Jarrett. I think this has been glossed over in media coverage of the tweet. It doesn’t make what Roseanne did right, but it changes its context, which is potentially important as it is almost universally presented out of context.
So, I think we have something here that is more mean than it is racist. However, we have a rare opportunity here to look at intent.
Roseanne may not have been aware that Jarrett was black.
Jarrett was born in Iran to American parents, which some people had misremembered as Jarrett being Iranian. Roseanne has claimed that she thought Jarrett was “saudi” [sic], but a friend also reported that Roseanne thought Jarrett was Jewish.
If “monkey” is a derogatory term for Black people, then it wouldn’t be racist in context when used regarding someone from the Middle East or that was ethnically Jewish.
Maybe we can cut Roseanne a little slack on this one.
Jarrett appeared on Finding Your Roots, where her DNA was determined to be “of 49% European, 46% African, and 5% Native American descent.” It may not be obvious at first glance what race she is or identifies with.
It doesn’t make Roseanne’s statement okay, but it does suggest that it wasn’t intentionally racist.
But, there’s one more thing that we need to consider.
The friend that reported that Roseanne thought Jarrett was Jewish was Joe Rogan. He was doing an interview with Ben Shapiro, and he framed the whole conversation in the following way.
Roseanne “is gonna be the first person to tell you she’s crazy and . . . she’s . . . at least functionally mentally ill . . . she’s always been what you would call a shit stirrer . . . people don’t remember . . . when she sung the national anthem and grabbed her crotch and spit on the ground.”
I found the video of that event if you’re feeling particularly self-loathing and want to watch it.
And, then there’s the fact that Roseanne was on Ambien.
The company that makes the drug, Sanofi, was quick to issue this cheeky tweet:
Haha. Very funny.
I looked into Ambien and started to wonder if they were being a bit disingenuous.
- Memory Loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disorientation to place or time
- Loss of emotional affect
- Confusion and disorientation
So, I don’t know what Sanofi is up to, but while technically correct, they’re not really being honest. Any of those I listed could contribute to Roseanne saying something she wouldn’t normally say.
And, oh yeah, I left the most relevant side effect off the list:
- Impaired judgment
What this means is that an already kinda-nutty person took medicine that has nuttiness as a side effect.
This doesn’t excuse what was said, but it does make it sort of expected.
Like, it’s not that surprising of an outcome.
So, we’ve added a whole bunch of layers to our nuance cake. Even with these, I think there may be a solid case for firing her.
If it were not for the fact that she was not at work.
Why should your employers get to police what you say and do when you’re not on the clock?
Or, was she on the clock?
Check in next week for the thrilling conclusion.