Roseanne?... I Can't Believe I'm saying this, but

I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This, But Bring Back the Rosanne Show

Are you happy Rosanne was fired? Wait. Don’t answer that! Not yet.

We are quite confident in our assumptions about the racist intent behind a post on Twitter or Facebook. “What else could they possibly have meant by it other than that?” we say to ourselves.

But how easily have you been misunderstood on Twitter or Facebook – often by people who know you quite well. How much easier, then, for a misunderstanding by total strangers on a text medium that leaves out emotional inflection?

It is the mind’s job to quickly assemble a cohesive perception of reality, and if anything is missing it will fill in the gaps with imagination. In the case of Roseanne, a large number of Americans likely filled in the idea - “racist” – without even reading her actual twitter post, simply based on the fact that Rosanne is a Trump supporter.

1.     Trump is a racist;
2.     Therefore a Trump supporter is a racist;
3.     Therefore anything a Trump supporter says is likely to be racist.

This is the easy calculation, but it is a logical fallacy. It’s similar to a conservative assuming anything mainstream news reports about Trump is a lie. Let’s take a closer look.

May 29, 2018, 2am: Roseanne tweets “if the muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” meaning Valerie Jarrett, former advisor to Obama White House.

Linking African-Americans with primates has a long dark history in deliberate racism, with 17th century European scientists using skull shape and other pseudoscience to justify the slave trade. Making this comparison can trigger deep wounds, and Roseanne’s tweet appears to be doing just that. Our instinct to oppose those words and forbid them in order to protect our culture from a resurgence of such oppressive ideas that cause so much psychological damage to people of color is honorable and just. But, unfortunately, we didn’t stop there. We labeled Roseanne a racist, condemned her, and canceled her show.

That very morning, ABC Executive, Dungey: "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show."

What a culture we live in today, where swiftly axing celebrities and canceling movies and shows without due process is our response to acts of racism and sexism. To protect their bottom line, companies are cutting out individuals like cancerous growths, scapegoats for their corporate culture, publicly distancing themselves from the ‘bad apples’ and thereby attempting to retain their purity. I find that repugnant. Where is the conversation that could change the culture that led to these situations in the first place?

It feels satisfying to condemn someone else for bad behavior. It is as if we can attach all that is negative about our culture to that token individual and then reject them, symbolically ridding us of the evil elements. Why complicate things by asking questions to humanize someone when it feels so good to dehumanize them?

If you are a social justice warrior, fighting against racism, you might view this firing as a small victory, but did it ever occur to you that your allies fighting sexism in Hollywood have just lost a soldier? Roseanne was a powerful woman there, breaking ground on all sorts of social issues. And Roseanne’s show was making great strides building bridges between the right and the left, combating the culture war that is hurting everyone.

In episode 7 from the new season of Roseanne’s show, her character is scared of her Muslim neighbors until fate puts them in conversation and she begins to understand and have compassion for some of their struggles. She later defends that neighbor against a racist at the grocery store. According to Dave Caplan, the co-executive producer of the show, it was Roseanne’s idea to write this episode.

“She wanted to get a comeuppance for her own bias,” Caplan says --- adding, “that was her idea.”

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“This is a teaching moment.” – Valerie Jarrett

What racists are being taught from the cancellation of Roseanne’s show is nothing about the plight of African-Americans or the unconscious racism of white Americans; rather, they are being told that you can’t trust the PC police to dole out justice and you’d better hide your views if you want to keep your job. Punishing racism in this way simply pushes it underground. Roseanne is one of the few figures in entertainment who represents conservatives, and canceling her show is like dropping a bomb on the ambassador ship of the conservative movement just when they were hosting peace talks with the left. While the left views Trump supporters as racists, the right views the PC Police as liberal fascists, censoring free speech in a way akin to the McCarthy blacklisting. Unless we plan on exiling 60 million Americans on the other side of the political aisle this Roseanne situation is a huge setback for Americans trying to reach across the divide.

What really underlies racism, sexism, all of our wars and flawed methods for dealing with them, and the patriarchy itself, is a domination culture that has ruled the world for thousands of years—the philosophy that “might makes right.” We see something that makes us uncomfortable and we simply remove it with superior power, as ABC did with Roseanne. Forcing people to shut their mouths and silencing their opposing voices is just another form of oppression that leaves more trauma in its wake. Those who are oppressed turn around to become oppressors, the bullied become bullies, and so the cycle proliferates. If we are to end the war that underlies all of our battles, we need a different strategy.

We need a respectful conversation.

Let’s start by attempting to humanize Roseanne before we condemn her. Did you ever ask what the context was behind her tweet? Why would she say that? Could it be that her attack was more about being anti-Democrat than being racist?

What if she didn’t know Valerie Jarrett was of African-American descent? Would that change the context a little? What if she deleted and apologized for the tweet before she was fired? What if she spent much of her life advocating for minority rights, even as a vocal anti-leftist, and this was one rare incident of an accidentally racist tweet? Would you still feel that her firing was the right thing to do?

Perhaps the real teaching moment here is not for Roseanne, but for all of us, liberals and conservatives alike. The message is that we can’t jump to condemnation if we want to reverse the domination culture and all the oppression it breeds. Perhaps it is time we strategize to de-escalate all of these wars in coordination with other peacemakers so we aren’t cutting off our nose to spite our face. Perhaps with more compassionate conversation, more humanizing instead of dehumanizing, we will see oppressive ideologies begin to lose their grip on Americans and we will turn around to be allies in the struggle against oppression of every kind.

To see Roseanne become an exemplar of a conservative, white American learning about her privilege and unconscious racism, and then becoming more sensitive and inclusive, all we would have to do is put her show back on the air.


~  by Andrew Shepherd