Roseanne Barr made some unflattering remarks about Valerie Jarrett, a former aide to former President Barack Obama. The actress, best known for the ABC production, Roseanne, tweeted that Ms Jarrett was the spawn of an Egyptian political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and “the planet of the apes.” ABC’s response was swift, a cancellation of the reboot of the popular 1990s situation comedy. Ms Barr went the apology route but it was a path taken too late as far as ABC was concerned.
Social media and traditional media have been on fire all day as some people expressed how they were offended by the remarks while others came to Ms Barr’s defense. The posturing was to be expected. What I also expected was that no one in the press has so far addressed three political questions. One, what is racism? Two, must blacks always have liberal whites come to their rescue with safety pins? Three, how will rural deplorables react?
The definition of racism has gone through a simpleton devolution over the past four decades. Once upon a time, racism referred to a systemic and systematic application of rules and conduct designed to deprive a class of people of social, economic, and political standing based on a narrative that their race was inferior to the race of the ruling class. While name calling and insults are expected to swirl around the social and institutional constructs that put discriminatory rules in place, name calling and insults alone did not necessarily translate into racism. Not only do you need hate, you also need emotional, legal, and physical power to deploy an infrastructure that relegates people to a second or third-class position. You need the power of the state, a state action to implement a racist infrastructure. I would argue that Ms Barr’s actions never arose to racism and no state action was present.
To be Muslim is to be an adherent of Islam, a religion, not a race. As for the phrase, “planet of the apes”, blacks in America have been referred to as monkeys for centuries. Neither Ms Jarrett, myself, or the almost one billion people who refer to themselves as black consider ourselves monkeys; therefore, the insult remains with Ms Barr. So why would the name calling arise above just that, name calling? It arises in part because liberal whites need to push the “safety pin” issue.
In the U.S., liberal whites started a safety pin campaign in 2016 where the pin symbolized a safe place for people afraid of President-elect Donald Trump. Mr Trump has come to represent for some Americans a resurgence of American racism and intolerance. Today’s reaction on social media by liberal whites indicates that they are willing and ready to incorporate Ms Barr’s comments in their overall campaign to paint the current economic and political climate as so toxic that nothing less than extinguishing Republican control of Congress, state legislatures, and governorships will be accepted.
Ms Barr’s support of Mr Trump probably didn’t help her cause with her critics or ABC. I am not a fan of Ms Barr or either itineration of her show but based on television ratings for the Roseanne reboot cited in published reports, Ms Barr seems to have made a connection with low-income conservative middle America. And that leads to my third question, how will the “Trump Deplorables” react?
Scott D. Pierce argues that one cannot say definitively that Ms Barr’s TV character is truly conservative but Ms Barr is another story. How well do low-income white conservative viewers relate to the show, I do not know. There is the potential for Ms Barr to really go rogue and use her celebrity and social media platform to spread her arguably radical conservative narrative.
ABC may have let the genie loose.