Don’t Confuse Roseanne’s Tweet with a Poorly Conceived Joke

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© Kathy Hutchins

June 04, 2018 06:45 EDT

Roseanne Barr’s racially charged tweet and Bill Maher’s jokes about Donald Trump are both in poor taste, but are fundamentally different.

In swift reaction to Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet — “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” — ABC canceled the revived sitcom Roseanne, in which Barr plays the lead character. Barr’s tweet was making a reference to Valerie Jarrett, former aide to President Barack Obama, likening her to an ape. Not surprisingly, right-wing media wasted no time in defending Barr’s tweet with implausible arguments. Fox News highlighted Roseanne fans crying foul at media double standards, citing Bill Maher getting away with calling Donald Trump an orangutan.

Instead of getting caught up in arguments based on ideological positions, it would be worthwhile to examine Roseanne Barr’s likening Jarrett to an ape and Maher’s likening Trump to an orangutan to see how fundamentally different the two incidents are. When Maher compared the president to a great ape from Borneo, he was specifically joking about one person: Donald Trump. Maher was not attacking the entire Caucasian race. Rather, he was making fun of a specific white male, who, on multiple occasions, has spewed hateful rhetoric against immigrants, intolerance toward Muslims and disrespect toward women.

In contrast, comparing black people to apes has been done for centuries. On the surface, Barr’s comment denigrating Jarrett may be confused as a poorly conceived joke on a successful African American woman. In reality, Barr’s tweet is an expression of the inherent racial bias harbored by many against African Americans. Barr’s tweet and Maher’s joke are both in poor taste. The crucial difference between them is that Maher chose to make fun of a specific white male, whereas Barr expressed her racial bias against blacks, treating them less than human.

People of color belong to a marginalized community in the United States. Black people are disproportionally incarcerated in American jails and have been at the receiving end of excessive use of police force in many instances based on skin color. These, and a host of other issues, stack the odds against African Americans. With her fortunate upbringing and education, Valerie Jarrett represents the minority of blacks who have overcome the challenges many others face. But that does not make her immune to the deep-seated bias that exists in the society against her race and gender. Even America’s charismatic first black president had to endure him and his wife portrayed as apes in a Belgian newspaper or in a photoshopped picture posted by a Russian lawmaker.

A telling factor in a marginalized community is the burden successful people carry on behalf of their entire group. Without doubt, President Obama would have been held to much higher standards should he have ever stooped to Trump’s level, spouting hateful rhetoric or denigrating women. As the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office, he shouldered the burden of representing the entire black race.

In contrast, Donald Trump embodies and enjoys the privilege that is extended only to a white Caucasian male. White male privilege is in large part the reason Trump can get away with making misogynistic statements like, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything … grab them by the pussy.” It is the same white privilege in the American society that provides him immunity for singling Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. Even a rebuke from a federal judge has done little to tone down his rhetoric.

His natural disposition to make outlandish statements coupled with his penchant for attention has warranted Trump’s position as a lightning rod for the media. Many public personas, politicians especially, provide fodder for stand-up comedy acts and late-night talkshows. It is no surprise that Trump was roasted by Maher, the irreverent HBO host. Through his own provocative behavior, Trump virtually invites himself onto such shows. There is no racial bias here.

America continues to remain a strongly racist society. Donald Trump’s presidency has made it worse by providing an environment that is conducive to openly displaying prejudice and intolerance of fellow humans based on their race, nationality, gender and sexual orientation. We cannot say the same of Barr’s deliberate tweet about Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett did nothing to invite Barr’s wrath. She is, however, a successful and accomplished African American woman, which in itself is sufficient to draw the ire of many racially biased people. Whether Roseanne Barr is a racist or not, her action unambiguously displays a racial bias toward black people.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Kathy Hutchins /

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