On the most entertaining fake Monday ever, Roseanne Barr decided to hop on Al Gore’s internet to send a tweet comparing former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett to a monkey. Almost instantly, Twitter erupted in outrage. At first, Barr defended her tweet by claiming it was a joke then she eventually sent out an apology. Twenty four hours later, she blamed Ambien. By then the damage had already been done. Shortly after Barr’s hateful tweet, Sykes, the consulting producer on ABC’s show Roseanne, announced her resignation on Twitter. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey released a press statement announcing the show’s cancellation. Management company ICM Partners dropped her as a client and Roseanne was pulled out of syndication by CMT, TV Land, the Paramount Network, The Laff and Australia’s Network Ten. Soooo, what did we learn from this little experiment?
Roseanne Barr is a racist, and has been for as far back as we can remember. This isn’t hidden on a blog somewhere or stuffed in one of those blind items on the back page of a trashy gossip magazine. This is a known fact. Roseanne has dressed up as Adolf Hitler, she’s been made Islamophobic comments about former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, she’s spread countless conspiracy theories with racist and xenophobic undertones. In fact, the Roseanne reboot was riddled with problematic ideas. But this is something many people, from Black Hollywood to white liberals, chose to ignore:
So, in regards to yesterday’s melee, I’d like to know how and why the line got drawn here. Her behavior shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, and that includes Channing Dungey, the president of ABC who greenlit the reboot, and Wanda Sykes, the show’s consulting producer. Both women, who are Black, were hailed on Twitter yesterday as moral compasses for denouncing Barr:
But what about a few weeks ago, when both were encouraging and making excuses for her abhorrent behavior? Here’s what Sykes had to say to Metro Boston just one month ago about working on the show: “I was really happy with the way things turned out with the scripts. I’m a Roseanne fan. I’m a fan of the show. It saddens me, but it also cracks me up. Extreme anything is nuts. Extreme left is just as nuts as the extreme right. The only way that we’re going to patch things up in this country is the people in the middle got to start talking to each other instead of just battling it out on Twitter.” She added, “Roseanne speaks to so many people. They just want to be entertained. It kills me when people say it’s a pro-Trump show. Absolutely not. These people are struggling. They’re sharing medication. Trump’s America, they’re still broke as hell.” As for Barr herself, Sykes referred to her as “just an old lady who shouldn’t be on Twitter.”
As for Dungey, it hasn’t even been two weeks since she defended Barr against an uproar from fans of Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat when the comedienne took a crack at the network’s more diverse offerings: "It was a little bit of a surprise, the reaction to that line. We felt like the writers were simply tipping the hat to those shows and it certainly wasn't meant to offend. That said, I do stand by the Roseanne writers in terms of the decision to include that line. I think they felt as though they were expressing the point of view of the Conners in what they would actually have said, and we do similar things on some of our other shows too. We're very clear on Black-ish how many of the opinions and views that are voiced are those of Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson)."
While we’re on the topic, Black-ish actor Deon Cole has a question about the episode of the show that ABC pulled for being too pro-Kaepernick.
Given how recently so many of the same people currently canceling Barr were defending her bad behavior, the swift action taken to punish her for her comments just feels empty. Recognizing and calling out racist behavior before it becomes a PR nightmare is actually what we need to do more of. Indeed, we’ve missed the opportunity time and again: let’s not forget that CBS let Charlie Sheen run amok for years before canceling Two And A Half Men and NBC is literally breaking ratings records by tearing apart the monster it created with The Apprentice.
Simply put, if well-meaning progressives were doing as good a job of calling out microaggressions as they are for adding their voices to the Cancellation Chorus when explicit racism, sexism and other abhorrent behavior shows up, Roseanne Barr would’ve never made it to television for a second time. R.Kelly would be in a jail cell somewhere. And quite possibly, Trump would’ve never been elected.
In the case of Roseanne, she’s already shown us who she is. Deciding to draw the line at a racist twitter rant after willfully turning a blind eye to her other million microaggressions is flat out performative. I’m not buying this revelation. Somewhere along the lines, Channing Dungey and ABC weighed the pros and cons and chose their ratings and viewership over doing the right thing. Why do they deserve praise for just now realizing what can happen when you let a bigot run loose?
We love to lie to ourselves about separating the art from the artist, right up until the moment that artist crosses our “moral” boundaries. If we’re to take anything from the last 24 hours, it’s that outrage is empty if we ignore all the signs along the way. If we’re going to make a strong stand against racism and every other -ism then we’ve got to start by getting some of these people out of the paint. Period.
(Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)