Because comparing this absolute unit to Trump isn’t racist (even if it’s insulting).
One of the biggest tragedies to befall the media has been the steady rise of false equivalencies presented in the name of “fairness.” After Fox News proclaimed themselves “fair and balanced” (and somehow never had a lawsuit brought against them for false advertising) and began declaiming the “mainstream media” for being biased, so-called “liberal” outlets have been falling all over themselves to prove themselves fair-minded. They also want it to be known that they are totally cool, they didn’t narc on you for smoking that cigarette after 5th period, and they have definitely had alcohol. They’re not squares.
The inevitable result is a decline in the objectivity of the press and a decline in a basic understanding of reality. For example: climate change is a thing. It is absolutely, provably, a thing. It is also provable that humans have had an effect on climate change. That’s just objectively true. Where we have some grey area is the extent to which humans have had an effect on climate change, and the best ways to decrease our impact. So a truly “fair and balanced” debate on climate change would look like this:
Person 1, a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “I believe that if we go to a more vegetarian diet and decrease our reliance on animals for meat, we would reduce our environmental impact by decreasing the CO2 produced by animals and decreasing deforestation that occurs in order to provide for grazing land.”
Person 2, also a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “When you account for things like climate and transportation, a vegetarian diet does not actually have less of an environmental impact for people in many areas where a plant-based diet is not readily available. It’s certainly not a bad idea to try to decrease our meat intake, but I think that we’ll have a large impact if we can continue carbon emission capping programs for large corporations.”
The two people have a shared basis in reality, and a difference in opinion. They can have a healthy, productive debate. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead, what we usually get is something like this:
Person 1, a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “Humans have an impact on the clim—”
Person 2, who has no scientific background but does run a blog that has been tweeted by the president: “FAKE NEWS. The climate just goes through cycles! WHY DO YOU THINK WE HAVE SNOW?”
One of these people is a scientist, and one of these people is an ignorant fool. But they are presented to us as if their opinions are equally valid. In order to avoid claims of being biased, mean, or stuffy, news outlets have thrown objectivity out the window in order to make two sincerely unequal positions seem equal. In addition to harming the notions of reality and truth, this tactic is pathetic because it just doesn’t matter. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing, will keep fact-phobic conservatives from feeling as if they are the injured, maligned party in a cruel world full of PC police and feminazis. Did any of the journalists who wrung their hands over Michelle Wolf’s “mean” speech pointing out that Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies all the time and also wears eyeliner increase the “extreme conservative/conspiracy theorist” demographic in their readership? Did it keep Trump from calling these outlets “fake news” multiple times? Of course not. They have already been declared the enemy. But they keep trying anyway. This desperate attempt to compromise values and morals in order to seem “cool” affects every outlet from CNN to the ostensible bastion of liberal thought, the New York Times.
I have grown too weary to count the number of times that the NYT has pivoted between doing truly important, hard-hitting journalism and offering a (lukewarm at best) “hot take” in which they turn themselves into metaphysical pretzels to try and appeal to red-state voters who are going to hate them anyway. This takes the form of hiring conservative writers and doing little to nothing to edit their thoughts in the name of “expanding perspectives,” normalizing neo-Nazis in sympathetic “think-pieces” that show that they, too, go to the grocery store, bemoaning the white working class that the Democrats supposedly abandoned while giving basically no shits about the black/brown/anything-but-white working class that has been abandoned by everyone… the list goes on. So when Roseanne Barr proved for like, the billionth time that she was a racist and then finally got punished for it, Richard and I both held our breath for the hot takes, especially from the NYT, on how this is a terrible blow for free speech and is also somehow helping Trump while also killing puppies.
Somewhat to our surprise, the NYT wasn’t… totally terrible. Yet. I’m writing this on Wednesday, and they have two full days to fuck up before this gets posted. (As if I’m going to go back and edit my work to update it. Who do you think I am, someone with more integrity than most journalism outlets?) While they were a bit too sympathetic to Barr and a bit more concerned with how this is going to affect ABC/congratulating ABC for becoming the first major broadcast TV outlet to hire a black woman as entertainment president in the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand-Fucking-Sixteen, nevertheless they were at least willing to go all out and call the tweet “racist,” which is a very low bar that many outlets did not meet.
Unfortunately, many other “hot takes” are trumpeting about how this is a violation of the 1st Amendment, how this is just the same thing as the NFL protest, and on, and on, and on. So I’m going to do my best to slowly and patiently break those arguments down. It’s gonna take a LOT of patience.
First argument: ABC firing Roseanne is a violation of the First Amendment.
My answer: No it isn’t.
My answer, with more detail because Richard is mouthing the words “please elaborate” at me: The First Amendment protects your right to speak without receiving consequences from the government. So ostensibly, if I write a book called Donald Trump is a Cave Troll Who Made a Wish on a Genie Lamp and Turned into an Approximation of a Person, the government could not arrest me. The First Amendment also has some restrictions, like not being able to share military secrets or inciting violence (they don’t enforce that second one particularly strongly, imo). However, if I was writing the same book and suddenly went on a thirty-page tirade about how men should be killed en masse and used sparingly as breeding stock, my publisher would be well within their rights to be like, “Elle, this is weird and violent. We don’t want to publish your book any more, or reward this kind of thinking by giving you money.” My theoretical publisher is a private entity, not the government, and can fire me with cause.
There are obviously some (also poorly enforced) discrimination protections that would hypothetically keep me from being fired just for being a woman, or for having a baby, or for other protected reasons, but “being a violent weirdo” is not a protected status. Neither is “being a racist asshole.” There is a difference between “protection from retribution against your speech by the government” and “protection from all consequences for your words and actions.” We are all entitled to the former—no one is entitled to the latter.
Second argument: This is exactly like the NFL kneeling thing!
My answer: Well… kinda. But not in the ways that matter.
In truth, the argument applies in both cases: ABC and the NFL can both fire employees for their speech if they think it’s alienating customers. The only difference is that ABC fired someone for free speech that was racist. NFL players are protesting racial injustice in policing and the criminal justice system, but their opponents suggest they are disrespecting The Flag or The Anthem or the armed forces. This is factually untrue, and the difference between the two cases is moral: Those offended by Roseanne Barr’s comments are offended by racism. Those offended by Colin Kaepernick’s silent kneeling have ascribed it a meaning that ignores—and often contradicts—his clearly expressed intention. The repercussions imposed on him are unjust.
So basically, “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.” Yes, the NFL legally has the right to fire someone for behavior that they think is hurting the brand. (Though their case does have some big old holes in it, labeled “discrimination” and “collusion.”) But Barr was fired for being a racist (or rather, a racist who finally was making enough of the public uncomfortable that her racism was suddenly a punishable offense) while Kaepernick is protesting racism. You’re basically comparing getting fired for resembling a Nazi to being fired for protesting Nazis.
Having the legal ability to punish employees in both cases does not mean that the cases are morally on the same level. There is a difference between “could” and “should.”
Third argument: By firing Roseanne, ABC is showing that they’re intolerant!
My answer: Oh my God, it is OKAY to be “intolerant” of bigotry.
Here is where we get into that whole “fair and balanced” issue again. Not all thoughts and opinions are on the same playing field. “Global warming is fake” is not an equally valid statement compared to “global warming is real.” Likewise, “it is bad to be racist” and “it is okay to be racist” are not equally valid. Pretending that Roseanne’s tweet is in the same moral realm as the NFL protest, or pretending that negative reactions to Roseanne’s tweets are in the same realm as, for example, negative reactions to pro-LGBT statements, is disingenuous. Again, this is about both morality and humanity. If someone is screaming in my face and I ask them to stop, or find a way to force them to stop, I am not being “intolerant” of their speech. They were screaming at me. It was rude and (probably) uncalled for. It is not small-minded, unjust, prejudiced, or any of the other synonyms for “intolerant” to make someone who is saying hateful things stop saying hateful things. There should be consequences for saying terrible things, in the same way that there are consequences for violating other moral norms. Again, Holmes tackles this pretty well.
“There should be consequences for hateful or racist rhetoric, it’s just it’s the job of private citizens—and companies—to enforce them in the right ways and at the right times. That used to be called having some common decency and moral judgment.”
Now, obviously, this can get us down a rabbit hole of who gets to decide what is moral and what are norms and blah, blah, blah. But if you use “the good of humanity, the promotion of equality and equity, and the ending of injustice” as the lodestones for your moral compass, you should probably do ok.
Fourth Argument: Roseanne didn’t mean anything racist by what she said, she was just trying to be generally insulting.
My answer: Shut the hell up and learn to use Google.
Seriously: go google “Roseanne’s racist history” and “racist history of comparing black people to apes.” I won’t wait, because I have better things to do with my time, but I assume this will suffice for you.
Fifth Argument: People have called Trump an orangutan, which is the exact same thing! Why aren’t you mad about that?
My answer: …*heavy sigh* please re-google “racist history of comparing black people to apes.”
It is a very, very different thing to compare a white person to an ape or monkey and comparing a black person to an ape or monkey. Because of things like “racism” and “history.”
That (hopefully) covers it. This shit is exhausting, y’all.
Signed: Feminist Fury.
Featured image is of an orangutan, not Trump, is by cuatrok77, and is shared under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.