Let’s tweet to unmask racism
Roseanne Barr’s case was easy. A no-brainer. Barr earned the title “racist” by tweeting this about Barack Obama’s former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, an African-American: “muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby=vj”.
A textbook example of pure, unadulterated racism.
Actually, Barr qualified for that branding in 2013 when she tweeted about Obama’s former ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser “Susan Rice is a man with big swinging ape balls”.
Barr is hardly the first well-known public figure to publicly reveal themselves as a bigot. Still, it is nothing to get used to. Barr’s Twitter outburst was so egregious that it is impossible to not denounce her action as repugnant or abhorrent.
Even in Donald Trump’s era of unleashed racial resentment, blatant public racist displays of Barr’s variety generally do not sit well, with many whites finding it to be shameful, offensive or at least embarrassing, and with most blacks and people of colour seething in outrage.
So now we’re getting the reaction, and we have seen it before: professed anger, gnashing of teeth and the coup de grâce — pulling the plug by cancelling a booking, forcing the perpetrator into a timeout, or, in this case, cancelling the show ... at least until the fuss blows over.
Which of course solves nothing.
Because Barr is not the problem. She’s just a symptom.
The sentiment behind her words — the animus she bears against Jarrett and Rice because of their race — is the same loathing of blacks that many white people share.
Most African-Americans will never find themselves on the receiving end of Barr-like racist tweets — although some of my incoming e-mails might curl your toes. The likelihood of blacks encountering a mob of white men in hoods is rather slim. So, too, the experience of having Molotov cocktails enter the house through the kitchen window. Most black lives will not be ended by a police bullet.
But the sting of racism is a constant presence in times and places where black people live, move and have their being.
The little, sharp, quick pains can be felt at any time and anywhere: in the workplace, while shopping, in restaurants, even churches. They are delivered through the insidious weapon of ignoring a black colleague on the job, a black shopper at the counter, or the black family in a white neighbourhood.
The wounding message: what you have to offer on the job is barely tolerable or worthless; you are unnoticed standing there waiting to be served; the white shopper, white colleague, white neighbour is more important.
The sting is felt in the social reception where no one speaks to you. It is displayed in the body language and attitude of the white server who wishes you were someplace else. Racism is embodied in the stereotyping that holds black males out to be suspicious, dangerous and untrustworthy — and black women to be loose and jaded.
And you know what? Most of these slights, insults and covert non-verbal, racial microaggressions — a phrase coined almost half a century ago by African-American Harvard professor and psychiatrist Chester Pierce — do not quite rise to the level of a formal complaint or a trip to the human resources office.
But they are there, pervasive, like the air. The hashtag #LivingWhileBlack speaks to the breadth and depth of embedded racism in the country. We can use it. Take to Twitter to let other folks of colour know they are not alone. Use social media through personal accounts to unmask the magnitude of racism in the workplace, in social life and where we pray. Cite chapter and verse, and name names.
Or sit back and wait until the next Roseanne Barr pops up on the scene to make the point.
For certain, there’s a lot more where she comes from. They just ain’t so loud.
•Colbert I. King writes a column — sometimes about DC, sometimes about politics — that runs on Saturdays. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. King joined The Washington Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served as deputy editorial page editor from 2000 to 2007