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‘Roseanne’ Is Gone, but the Culture That Gave Her a Show Isn’t


© Brinson+Banks for The New York Times Roseanne Barr in March.

By ROXANE GAY, The New York Times

On Twitter on Tuesday, Roseanne Barr wrote that if “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby =vj.” The message referred to President Barack Obama’s former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and in it Ms. Barr traded on age-old racist ideas about black people and primates. Then she shared some incorrect nonsense about Chelsea Clinton marrying into the Soros family.

It was the kind of thing Roseanne Barr has been doing online for years. This time, however, the backlash was immediate and vigorous. Ms. Barr apologized for her “joke” that wasn’t really a joke and said she was leaving Twitter as if Twitter were responsible for her racist behavior. That apology was not enough. ICM Partners, her agents, stopped representing her. The comedian Wanda Sykes, who was a consulting producer on the reboot of “Roseanne,” announced that she was quitting the show. Within a matter of hours, ABC canceled the new “Roseanne” and the original show’s reruns were pulled from TV Land, CMT and the Paramount Network.

For once, a major network did the right thing. But before it did the right thing, it did the wrong thing. It is not new information that Roseanne Barr makes racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic statements and is happy to peddle all manner of dangerous conspiracy theories. ABC knew this when it greenlighted the “Roseanne” reboot. ABC knew this when it quickly renewed the reboot for a second season, buoyed, no doubt, by the show’s strong ratings.

The cast, the writers and the producers knew what Ms. Barr stood for when they agreed to work on the show. Everyone involved made a decision to support the show despite its co-creator’s racism. They decided that their career ambitions, or desire to return to network television, or financial interests would best be served by looking the other way. It was only when Ms. Barr became an immediate liability that everyone involved finally looked at her racism and dealt with it directly.

I watched and enjoyed the first two episodes of the “Roseanne” reboot but I could not continue watching, given everything Ms. Barr represents. I also watched the original version of “Roseanne” when it aired. I remember the Conner family as working class and solidly invested in the greater good of their community. They seemed to be liberals, which is antithetical to the Roseanne in the reboot, who is a working-class Trump supporter. Certainly, the Conner family may have changed political affiliations and become Republicans and there would be nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that Donald Trump is a toxic president who amassed his power through the provocation of hate. He has behaved as if conservatism and racism are synonymous when, in fact, they are not. The problem is that having a major character on a prominent television show as a Trump supporter normalizes racism and misogyny and xenophobia.

President Trump often seems like a living embodiment of Ms. Barr’s Twitter feed, and many of his most vocal supporters revel in that. They revel in the freedom and the permission to be racist. The reboot contributed to a cultural moment that makes white people feel exceedingly comfortable and entitled as they police black bodies in public spaces.

I have, as of late, been thinking a lot about such policing and how, historically, black people have negotiated white entitlement to their bodies. The “Negro Motorist Green Book” was an annual guidebook curated during the Jim Crow era to let black people know where they could safely find gas, food and lodging while traveling across the United States by car. The “Green Book” was created out of necessity, and though it ceased publication in 1966, recent events have made it clear that there is still a need for some kind of guidebook detailing where it is safe to be black. Recent events have made it clear that such a guidebook would be a very slender volume indeed.

Lolade Siyonbola, a black Yale graduate student, was napping in her dorm’s common room when a white woman came upon her, told Ms. Siyonbola she couldn’t sleep there and called the police. Ms. Siyonbola then had to prove she had a right to be in her dorm, on her college campus.

In Southern California, three black women were checking out of an Airbnb rental and loading their luggage into the car when they were suddenly surrounded by police cars. A white woman had seen three black people with luggage, assumed they were criminals, and because the women didn’t smile or wave at the white woman, she called the police on them.

Three black teenagers in St. Louis shopping for a prom at a Nordstrom’s Rack were followed by two store employees throughout their time there. When the teenagers left the store with their purchases, the police were waiting.

Five black women were golfing in Pennsylvania when the police were called because the women were, purportedly, golfing too slowly.

Some black people were having a barbecue in an Oakland, Calif., public space and a white woman called the police on them for using a charcoal grill.

In Philadelphia last month, two black men waiting for a business meeting with a third person in a Starbucks were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks while black.

In each of these encounters, white people took it upon themselves to police black bodies in public spaces. They felt entitled to do so because of racism, which they used to delineate the borders of what they arbitrarily determined as acceptable behavior for black people. They felt this entitlement because that’s what racism does — it allows one group of people to feel superior to and imagine dominion over another.

On the same day that Ms. Barr sent her vile tweet, Starbucks closed all its American stores for a few hours of training about racial bias, as part of its campaign to rehabilitate the company’s image and ensure that what happened in Philadelphia doesn’t happen again.

When asked to comment about Ms. Barr’s tweet, Ms. Jarrett, the former Obama adviser, said, “This should be a teaching moment.” It was a dignified statement to be sure, but one wonders just how many teaching moments we need for white people to no longer feel entitled to comment on or police black bodies. And how much longer will we choose to consume pop culture that encourages such policing, either implicitly or explicitly?

Ms. Barr was free to speak her mind, but she was not free from consequences. Now that she is reaping those consequences, many people are praising ABC and its swift action. But there is no nobility in what anyone involved in “Roseanne” has done at any point during the reboot’s trajectory. Certainly, I empathize with all of the people who are now out of work, particularly those in the trades — the grips, best boys, camera people, production assistants and others who are not famous faces. But I also question what kind of empathy the decision makers had for the targets of Ms. Barr’s hateful rhetoric as they supported this show and her. They seemingly had none. Even at the recent network upfronts, ABC executives were joking about Ms. Barr’s Twitter feed.

Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” Bob Iger, the chairman and chief executive of Disney, ABCs parent company, said, “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” The cast member and producer Sara Gilbert lamented the show’s demise and said, “Roseanne’s recent comments about Valerie Jarrett, and so much more, are abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with the show.”

All of these statements sound conscientious and righteous. These statements make it seem as if ABC is invested in doing the right thing. The statements make it seem as if the cast and crew are nothing like the show’s star. These statements are but part of an elaborate and lucrative illusion. ABC is the same network that shelved an episode of “Blackish” because it addressed the N.F.L. anthem protests.

I am more interested in the statement ABC could have made by never making the reboot in the first place.


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Politics - U.S. Daily News: ‘Roseanne’ Is Gone, but the Culture That Gave Her a Show Isn’t
‘Roseanne’ Is Gone, but the Culture That Gave Her a Show Isn’t
Politics - U.S. Daily News
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