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The Consequences of the Roseanne Fiasco

On Tuesday, controversial comedian Roseanne Barr was terminated by ABC and her revised, updated sitcom was cancelled. By now, most people have heard of the despicable comments she tweeted: “Muslim brotherhood & Planet of the apes had a baby”  referring to Valerie Jarrett , the Black former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

As one can imagine, social media reaction was fast, swift and furious. ABC wasted no time in delivering its decision to terminate Barr. Channing Dungey, president of ABC News Entertainment division, and the first  Black woman to hold the position, was swift in her condemnation.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” Dungey  said.  She was routinely applauded for taking such decisive action and won the support of Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney, as well as other public figures.

It should be noted that this was not the first time Barr has ventured into crude, callous territory as it relates to race. In 2013, she referred to Susan Rice, national security adviser in the Obama administration, as a “man with big swinging ape balls.”  Roseanne engaged in the most racially primitive language possible. Comparing Black people to apes, monkeys, animals and other non-human or less-than-human species is classic, primitive racist rhetoric straight out of the pages of regressive, old-fashioned, eugenic-minded, racial stereotypes.

As a 65-year-old White woman, Barr should have known better.  If we are being honest with ourselves, the truth is, she probably did. Truth be told, she probably assumed that she had been granted so many passes for previous brash and obnoxious behavior (including her notorious bizarre national anthem performance at the 1990 San Diego Padres game) almost three decades ago that she would be able to get away with her latest insult, which was a blatant racial affront to millions of people of African descent throughout the world. In her mindset, she likely assumed that any controversy would quickly subside and everything would return to  business as usual. Well, it seems that karma finally caught up with the acid-tongued comedian.

As many pundits and consultants from all walks of life and across the political spectrum have argued, ABC knew what they were getting when they entered into a partnership with Barr. It was not as if they were blindsided by a new up-and-coming novice who suddenly threw them a curve ball. Roseanne Barr is a veteran Hollywood celebrity who is known for her crass, crude, acerbic, frequently volatile persona. She is brash, routinely belligerent and embodies a take-no-prisoner persona. She does not hesitate to engage in vicious battles with everyone and anyone on social media. Hurling intense insults and being rude is her stock and trade. She’s a loose cannon.

ABC saw Rosanne Barr as a potential cash cow, and rightly so. Ratings for her new series were record-breaking. Indeed, Barr garnered the type of ratings that are a dream for advertisers and network executives. People were probably hugging one another in the halls of ABC the day after the ratings were announced. Hell, even President Trump weighed in on the issue, congratulating her for her impressive return to television. That being said, fortunately, even ABC would not allow its integrity and moral compass to be compromised for a few more dollar bills – in this case, million-dollar bills.

Some have weighed in on the fact that Black women were involved in all aspects of this dramatic spectacle. Dungey, Jarrett and Rice all are Black women. Strong, intelligent, professional, successful, powerful Black women. Each has a level of visibility and social status that cannot be ignored or minimized, even by those who would rather obscure their accomplishments. This fact in and of itself is both noteworthy and admirable.

To be sure, there are some on the conservative and cultural right, among them Ted Nugent and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and others, who are engaging in mental gymnastics, decrying what they see as “double standards,” political correctness and other predictable language that usually emanates from right-wing circles when they perceive themselves as being under attack from outside forces.

Paranoia aside, the truth is that with her recent attacks on Jarrett and previous attack on another Black woman, Roseanne engaged in the most heinous act of racial inflammatory rhetoric possible. Her comments were an insult to Jarrett, Black people and decent human beings in general.  Thank goodness  ABC had the integrity to make the right decision.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African-American studies and gender studies at East Tennessee State University.







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