I have always hated using the word “racist.” In my mind, it serves no useful purpose, and is one of those words guaranteed to quickly end conversations. My efforts throughout a half a century of vocational and avocational pursuits have emphasized listening, leaned towards inclusion, sought the value implicit in all people and promoted settings in which all sides of an argument are relevant and welcomed.
That said, blind racism, gender bias, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments and prejudice against persons with disabilities have no place in the multi-hued mosaic that is the human family. Still, I take no delight in name-calling. So, I hesitated for a long time before writing the title of this post. But Roseanne Barr’s recent tweet about Valerie Jarrett is so beyond the pale, that I am left no choice but to call out the ugly, repulsive, bigoted remark for what it is and its author for who she is.
It is inconceivable to me that such comments still find their way into our social fabric and repeatedly weave themselves into political discourse. The reboot of Roseanne by ABC was trumpeted (even by the President himself) as a show that would expand our media horizons to sympathetically include working class families and the struggles they face each day, thereby helping all Americans come to grips with the cultural and political divides that confront us.
By poking fun at things that separate us while speaking to deeper truths, the show was to remind us that we are more alike than we are different. Deft humor can make this point with great effectiveness and the original Roseanne, never without controversy, had an artful edginess that endearingly allowed the show’s plot lines and characters to provide insightful commentary on our foibles as a nation. But today, the stakes are higher.
In a day when young black men are repeatedly killed by law enforcement, when the White House maligns the press as fake news, when scandals surround the White House, when immigrant children are ripped from the arms of their mothers at the border, when negotiations with North Korea blow hot and cold, this is a tricky tightrope to walk. Perhaps ABC (whose parent company is Walt Disney) believed that the formula for Rosanne’s original show was uniquely suited to fill this void.
But they failed to consider the volatile personality of the real-life Roseanne Barr whose tirades on Twitter and elsewhere continued unabated and, ultimately, became indefensible. What a disservice she has done to the President she claims to admire. He has created his own volatile racial issues, for sure, but her tweets (Valerie Jarrett was not the first to experience her racist bile), along with other conspiratorial remarks she has made from the far fringes of right-wing conspiracy theory, make it much easier for those so inclined to continue to paint the President and his supporters with the racist label.
Sadly, if Roseanne sought to create an environment that increased respect and understanding of all Americans, she has failed (and the President’s silence on her remarks exacerbated the failure). She has set back efforts to build bridges among people of diverse political views. Racism is not a prerequisite for wanting to drain the swamp or make the federal government more responsive to white working people. And, clearly, not all Trump supporters are racist. But, Roseanne’s recent comments make it ever more difficult to see this administration in terms other than those that divide us along racial lines; and those looking to narrow cast the President and his supporters as insensitive bigots will have yet another example on which to base their beliefs.
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