Friday, June 1, 2018
Bigotry obvious in Roseanne Barr debacle; less so, the value of professional PR
My first job out of college was writing publicity in Los Angeles. I sat in a bare office—desk, chair, window facing a parking lot—in Century City, grinding out capsule biographies of 12-year-old BMX bicycle racers, stiff-arming the creeping conviction that, at 22, my life was now officially over.
The sun-kissed little hellions could not be expected to pause from their moto whips and 540 barspins to write their own profiles, of course. Such things were not done. Writing your own publicity was the realm of the amateur, of mimeographed church newsletters and bulletin board rummage sale announcements. A professional operation like the BMXL—the Bicycle Motocross League—was expected to hire a slick firm staffed with fresh Northwestern graduates such as myself, who would drape them in properly-spelled glory.
A sensible dynamic which came pouring back to me this week as I sat gaping, open-mouthed, along with the rest of the country, watching Roseanne Barr's reborn career implode, along with ABC's top-rated program, after the comedian sent out a tweet late Monday suggesting that former Obama administration adviser Valerie Jarrett is the progeny of an ape.
Since many Americans seem clueless as to why this particular insult is different than any random cruelty, a bit of history:
The United States was founded a slave-owning nation. Our Constitution was an elaborate tap-dance lauding liberty while enabling slavery. But you need more than disingenuous laws to own slaves. You need the slave-owner's mindset. Convincing yourself that some human beings are your personal property based entirely on the color of their skin is a complex self-deception that requires you to believe they are inferior to you. Deciding they are non-human helps, and Roseanne said what every daughter of Dixie felt in 1850, a time when Americans eagerly hardened their hearts, perverted their religious faith and deformed their ethical standards to tell themselves this. After all, money was involved.
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