“Words are the voice of the heart.” – Confucious
I’m still reeling from the gut punch after learning of Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet referencing the Planet of the Apes when referring to Valerie Jarrett, a former Obama administration staffer, and Black woman. And just minutes ago I learned of Roseanne’s 2013 tweet referencing an ape and Susan Rice, another Black woman. Gut punch times two.
Throughout its twenty years in syndication, I have watched every episode of Roseanne multiple times. I watched Becky ask her mother for birth control and elope with bad boy Mark. Witnessed the amazing character development of Darlene from tomboy to (dark) artist to wife and mother and DJ, a wee boy when the series began, grew into a typical teen. Fan-girled over my favorites Dan and Jackie, the dynamic husband/sister duo of the semi-grateful matriarch and the definition of ride-or-die.
And Roseanne Connor. A wife, mom, sister, daughter, and not-so-great friend who offered her own brand of love and way of viewing the world. There wasn’t a punchline Roseanne Barr didn’t land perfectly. Roseanne’s comedic timing was brilliant.
However, Roseanne’s racist rants must not be confused with badly-timed punchlines.
Full disclosure: I’m struggling to make sense of the downfall of an actor who masterminded a show I adore (also see Bill Cosby). Has she always been a racist and if so, did I somehow miss hate-riddled cues throughout her work, or worse, ignored it?
Words are infinitely more significant than their face value and we all have a responsibility to be thoughtful with our language. Thankfully, ABC canceled the Roseanne show. Someone with that much influence and matching hate should not be given a platform and get paid for it. Like, say, the President of the United States and his secretary of education Betsy DeVos.
The POTUS consistently belittles and resorts to name-calling, recently labeling a group of human beings as animals. If that’s not enough, Secretary of Education DeVos suggests schools – centers of education and safety for immigrant families – should be the deciders of whether or not to rip apart immigrant families – “it’s a local community decision.”
Even though the words of our nation’s leaders are disturbing, I think there is value in knowing exactly where the POTUS and Betsy DeVos stand on issues. However, a by-product of Trump’s hateful words is the empowering of closet haters – like Roseanne Barr. I’m reminded of a Roseanne episode that pointedly confronted race when DJ refused to kiss a Black girl in a school play. In one scene, Roseanne and Dan try to work through the issue when DJ blurts out “she smells funny!” While I was mortified by the remark, I felt at the time the writers did a pretty solid job shining a light on latent racism. A couple of decades later I wonder if the “she smells funny” remark was a peek into Roseanne’s Black woman hate?
Words are the voice of the heart.
We live in a country that affords us free speech, but with that comes a relentless responsibility to all of our fellow sisters and brothers.
Roseanne, you’ve pushed the envelope your entire career and survived some pretty gross behavior on your part. May you learn from this one.