Roseanne Barr, and the case for being “pro stuff”

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As I type, fallout has begun from a racist tweet by actress/comedienne Roseanne Barr. By the time you read this, there will be no one in America who hasn’t heard that ABC has canceled her much-buzzed-about reboot series, in response.

In just over 50 characters, Barr managed to offend her target (Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett), Jarrett’s friends and family, African Americans, Muslims, Iranians… and anyone (liberal or conservative) with a shred of tolerance, class or conscience.

Cast member Wanda Sykes beat ABC to the punch – she quit the show when the tweet went viral. And Barr’s talent agency ICM Partners dropped her as a client.

I’m not sure why the tweet surprises anyone. In 2013, Roseanne shared something similar about then National Security Advisor Susan Rice – and was shamed into walking it back. All that was missing this time was a #sorrynotsorry.

A #boycottABC movement is well underway. The show’s supporters are accusing the network of political correctness run amuck, and “liberals” of being snowflakes with ZERO sense of humor.

To paraphrase: First they’ll come for “Last Man Standing”, then for “Roseanne”… then for your liberty.

I won’t add to the raging debate on freedom of speech vs. political correctness. It’s a useful discussion, but so polarizing I fear nothing will come of it. Roseanne is (rightfully, IMO) taking a hit where it hurts most – her ego and her wallet. But hardworking actors and crew members – most of whom probably don’t share her intolerant views – are now also unemployed. Well done, Roseanne.

I also won’t lecture on racism. It exists in abundance and it’s appropriate to call it out when we see it. Done.

I’m not astounded that a comedienne is a bigot. Or that someone has tweeted something nasty and dumb that landed them into hot water.

I AM amazed that humans are supposedly evolved beings, yet most NEVER LEARN from past mistakes.  So, I have a few suggestions:

  • Do you want to avoid slipping up, and – totally innocently, of course – appearing racist by mocking the appearance of someone of color? Solution: Do not tweet or post unkind things about anyone’s appearance… period. Just don’t — even if you think your bon mot is a hoot, or your Uber driver laughed out loud at it, or your racist Uncle Bob suggests, “You should tweet that!”

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  • If you simply cannot control yourself, and must mock someone, do not compare him/her to a monkey, an ape, a chimp or any other primate. It literally NEVER, EVER ends well. (Also, shame on you for your cruelty.) Comparisons to an elephant, dog or pig are also off limits, for reasons that should be obvious.
  • If you are a comedian (professional or wanna be) who requires constant validation, resist the temptation to pander for laughs in social media. There’s a sub species on Twitter that hides behind fake bios, and spews hateful stuff under the guise of “humor”. Do not try to compete. Trolls have no reputation to besmirch, you (probably) do.
  • Your boss is on Twitter. So are members of your HR department, and your customers and clients. Even potential future employers. When in social, behave as if your career is on the line because… well, it kind of is.

There’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek decision tree floating around the internet, to help us determine whether to speak in a meeting. Is your comment on topic? Is it helpful? Has someone already raised the point? (Let me hear an “Amen” to #3, ladies!)

A decision tree on whether to post in social media could be much simpler. When hovering above the “tweet”, “share” or “post” button, consider whether your content is helpful to your audience, or kind and uplifting. If not, keep it to yourself.

I recently re-watched a fantastic commencement speech by Tim Minchin who warned graduates against defining themselves by what they are “against”, instead of what they are “for”.  He encouraged everyone to be “pro stuff”. Check it out.

Being pro stuff is more fun. Just ask Roseanne.

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