WASHINGTON -- Roseanne Barr’s appeal has so long eluded me that her further fall from disgrace has failed to dislodge even the slightest pebble of pity, though pitiful she is.
It seems too facile to call her merely racist, which her recent tweet about former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett plainly establishes. Barr said that Jarrett was the result if the “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby,” amusing approximately no one.
No, Barr is more than an Ambien-enhanced racist; she’s what happens when a struggling network (ABC) sells out in a bid to capture Donald Trump’s base. If executives had but tuned into Barr’s Twitter account sooner, they’d have known she was a Trumpster suffering conspiracy fever. Then again, maybe they did know and didn’t care. Ratings, baby, ratings are all that matter.
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Barr has apologized six ways from Sunday. In later tweets, she recalled begging ABC President Ben Sherwood not to cancel the recently resurrected show, saying that she thought Jarrett, who served eight years as a senior adviser to President Obama, was actually white. She added that Jarrett “looks like my family!”
Sure. And did she also think that Jarrett was, what, a Presbyterian and not really a Muslim, as people on the fringe-right have long held? No, Barr was obviously tapping into the conspiracy theory that Jarrett, who was born to African-American parents living in Iran, is Muslim -- and the racist’s persistent belief that blacks are inferior and less evolved than whites.
This is such an enduring, dehumanizing trope of racists that it requires no further elucidation. That Barr, whose own knuckles must be raw from strolling the subterranean sewers of her foul dreamscape, should select the ape and the terrorist Brotherhood to represent Jarrett’s parentage is, in Sherwood’s words, “egregious and unforgivable.”
But, the Ambien made her do it! This was one of the explanations Barr offered, as she frantically rifled through her primordial psyche in search of a credible excuse. Ambien, an insomnia medicine, may help you sleep, but it doesn’t make you a mean, ugly person. Those conditions would be considered pre-existing -- and the “Ambien haze” to which Barr referred, a release of the inherent being. As the drug’s maker tweeted in a comic line that Barr might study: Racism is not a known side effect of Ambien.
The overwhelming condemnation of Barr’s remarks via social and other media has proved at least one thing: Racism won’t be tolerated in this country ever again. We can infer this because Barr made a similar racist remark in 2013 about then-national security adviser Susan Rice with little disapproval. With her familiar classiness, Barr tweeted that Rice, also African-American, was “a man with big swinging ape balls.”
Who thinks like this?
Racists, that’s who.
Nevertheless, some have leapt to Barr’s defense. A joke is a joke, they say, and bad ones shouldn’t be show-stoppers. Free speech, y’all, comes the chorus from quarters where the First Amendment is only selectively admired. Speech is free, all right, but it doesn’t mean free from consequences -- and free markets decide what sells. It didn’t take guts for ABC to cancel “Roseanne,” despites its high ratings (see Donald Trump’s praise) and its 18 million viewers in the first week. It took only a modicum of humanity -- and, of course, the understanding that advertisers and audiences would no longer support the show.
Frankly, after Barr’s screeching, crotch-grabbing (no wonder she likes Trump) massacre of the national anthem in 1990, as well as anti-Semitic comments and her subsequent remark about Rice, she didn’t deserve another shot at America’s laugh track.
No doubt, Barr’s anguish over about the consequences shared by her cast and co-stars is sincere. But bottom line: There is no excuse. While Barr’s tweet about Jarrett may have revealed her darkest thoughts, her attempts to cover herself reveal who and what she is.
Inadvertently, the incident also highlighted who Valerie Jarrett is: a strong, intelligent, well-educated, service-driven, thoughtful, warm and charming woman of historic significance. One hopes that Jarrett, whom I count as a friend, is also impervious to the Barrs of the world. Regrettably, these include the current president, who rose to office on the racist “birther” myth about Obama’s origins and was elected in spite of a long history of moral turpitude and alleged sexual abuse.
On a positive note, Trump and Barr are to be credited with shining a light on America’s underbelly and uniting decent Americans in common cause. Unlike in earlier times when racism or sexism were shouted out, social media and the recent momentum of two relevant movements -- (hash)MeToo and (hash)BLM -- suggest that times are, indeed, changing for good. No excuses.
In the meantime, Jarrett floats above the fray with grace and dignity, seeking ways to make this a teaching moment, and reminding us of what true leadership looks like.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.