Starbucks gets it. Roseanne doesn't. Racism won't fly in the new corporate America

ABC canceled the reboot of "Roseanne" after its controversial star, Roseanne Barr, went on a racist Twitter rant on Tuesday morning.
ABC canceled the reboot of "Roseanne" after its controversial star, Roseanne Barr, went on a racist Twitter rant on Tuesday morning. ABC

Two West Coast corporations — Disney-owned ABC and Starbucks — went out on a limb Tuesday to defend diversity and inclusion. For the record, that's not just because those values are a left coast thing.

Rather, it's because racism is increasingly costly, as its own defenders are discovering.

In a move that surely irked President Donald Trump’s more nativist supporters, ABC canceled its top-rated TV series “Roseanne” after its star and unabashed Trump supporter, Roseanne Barr, went on a racist social media rant.

In a series of tweets and retweets, she called former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett a child of “The Planet of the Apes” and the Muslim Brotherhood. Jarrett is black and was born in Iran. Twitter, of course, erupted in fury, calling out ABC and Disney by name. Barr initially insisted she was joking and then, perhaps sensing that she had crossed a line, backtracked.

“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she tweeted. “I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better.”

Too late. The network rightfully dropped her sitcom anyway.

In a statement, ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey, the first black person to head programming at a major broadcast network, called Barr’s tweets “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” Less than an hour after that, Barr’s talent agency, ICM Partners, dropped her, too.

It was a message, not just from the suits in the C-suite, but from the bottom line that guides them: Racism is not OK anymore, and the time of letting racially insensitive comments slide is over. That means no more tolerating bigoted behavior from employees. If Barr had just bothered to take a coffee break from her ugly tweetstorm, she might have seen the professional, if not political, error of her ways.

On Tuesday, Starbucks shut down all 8,000 of its company-owned stores for a half-day to conduct racial bias training for its 175,000 employees. The coffee chain’s chairman, Howard Schultz, made the decision after a barista in Philadelphia had two black men arrested for not buying anything and quietly sitting at a table while waiting for an acquaintance.

The two men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, settled with the city for $1 each and a promise to establish a $200,000 public high school program for young entrepreneurs.

“The situation was reprehensible and does not represent our company’s mission and enduring values,” Schultz said in an open letter to customers.

The decisions by Schultz and Dungey are striking, both for their swiftness and for their rejection of bigotry so jaw-dropping — and, in some corners of the U.S., still so common — that, in a less technologically connected era, it might not have been believed had social media not been there to record it.

But as other institutions wane, they reflect a new corporate role. Yes, the two companies will pay a short-term price — ABC in lost “Roseanne” viewers and ad dollars, and Starbucks in hours of lost sales. But the long term benefits of not being associated with bullies? Priceless.

The church may be polarized and waning, and conscience may be passe in the Trump era. But the long arm of the market endures.

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