COLUMN: Cemetery effort is an example of bipartisan success
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Everybody is talking about Roseanne.

Comedienne and television actress Roseanne Barr headed a cast of the popular television show that bears her name. Last week she tweeted: 'Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj' referring to Valerie Jarrett. Barr was responding to a comment about Valerie Jarrett, a top former aide to President Obama.

Jarrett, who was born in Iran, was one of Obama's longest-serving advisers. She identifies as a member of the black community, but is a very light skinned woman whose features could be from any ethnic group. Jarrett has no known ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Barr claimed she was joking, but then she deleted the tweet and issued an apology to Jarrett and "all Americans." In yet another tweet she said, "I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks." Later, Roseanne tweeted. "I should have known better. Forgive me - my joke was in bad taste." Finally, Barr said she was leaving Twitter.

It was too little and too late, for by then the proverbial hell had broken loose.

"Roseanne" consulting producer Wanda Sykes (a black comedienne and actress) announced she would be leaving the show. Cast member Emma Kenney said she was "hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed. Sara Gilbert, who played Roseanne's onscreen daughter Darlene, wrote that Barr's comments about Jarrett were "abhorrent".

Within a few hours of the first statement, ABC surprised everyone. Despite the show's high ratings, they canceled the Roseanne show. In its official statement the network said, "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."

Over 100 tweets later, the 24/7 television news cycle treated us all to an hour by hour commentary of Roseanne's remarks. First the actress claimed to have fought for civil rights. Then she blamed Ambien - an insomnia drug - for her remarks. And finally the actress declared, "I'm not a racist, just an idiot who made a bad joke."

I heard that Jarrett's public statement was that "we have to turn [this episode] into a teaching moment." I agree. But what will we be teaching?

Even President Trump weighed in. President Trump's tweet has begun a national discussion about double standards regarding media. This conversation even made it into the White House press briefing. But is this what we should teach about?

This may shock you, but I'm not sure that Roseanne is racist. I saw Valerie Jarrett on MSNBC. Valerie Jarret could be from many racial backgrounds. Her skin is light, her hair is straight and her features are not the African norm for women at all.

I'm convinced Roseanne thought that she was sending a political insult to a white woman. In follow up tweets, Roseanne admits that she did not realize that Valerie Jarret was African-American.

By the way, in some circles online, very cruel memes criticizing the looks of Nancy Pelosi are floating. These pictures feature unflattering facial expressions next to monkeys in lipstick who have similar expressions. Apparently comparing a white woman to a monkey does not cause public outcry.

None of that makes what Roseanne did correct. Her tweet isn't inherently racist. But she offended millions anyway. Is this what we should be teaching about?

Roseanne's history of mental illness is well documented. She has had several "nervous breakdowns" since 2001. But even this may not be what we should learn from this incident.

Consider the price of put downs. It may feel good to act up online but, in the public arena, the wrong insult, towards the wrong person can at the wrong time, can be very costly. That's what Roseanne is learning. And we had better learn from her.

We must teach about public discourse and civility. In 2018 where everyone has a public platform through social media, we must teach everyone to be respectful. All of us are only one insult, rude statement or embarrassing video away from viral and/or public outcry. Outcry that can get us fired, bankrupted, sued or driven out of public life.

Maybe we should simply avoid insults.


Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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