Two days after Roseanne Barr went on a racist Twitter rant that resulted in the cancellation of her sitcom revival on ABC — a rant in which she compared former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape — comedian Samantha Bee received similar blowback from folks on the right. People are likening the insult that Bee aimed at Ivanka Trump — calling her a “feckless c—” during a segment of her TBS show Full Frontal — to Barr’s online comments. Many conservatives who are critical of ABC’s decision to fire Barr immediately demanded the cancellation of Bee’s show, and they aren’t alone. The White House released a scathing statement condemning Bee and calling for Time Warner and TBS to cancel Full Frontal.
Let’s be clear: there is a stark difference between Barr’s overt, reckless racism and Bee’s insensitive crude remark.
Calling a Black person an ape is not the same thing as being crass toward one of the most privileged women in the world regarding inhumane policies of a White House where she is an “advisor.” Likening the two not only downplays the violent threat inherent in promoting racism, but also helps to normalize obvious bigotry and prejudice.
First, it is important to look at the notable difference in the language used by Barr and Bee, respectively. Barr, who has been known to spew racist and xenophobic rhetoric, shared a tweet that compared Jarrett, a Black woman, to an ape. In doing so, she invoked old and painful racial rhetoric that has been used to attack Black Americans for centuries. The “ape” slur strips people of their humanity and denies them their civil rights.
Bee, on the other hand, used a word the president himself has used to describe at least three different women, according to The Daily Beast. Though widely considered offensive in the United States, it has a neutral or even positive meaning in places like Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. Bee’s insult also doesn’t have the same history of violence that ideology likening Black people to animals does — which is perhaps one of the clearest lines of separation between Barr and Bee’s statements.
The false equivalency being drawn between Barr’s racism and Bee’s crudeness ignores the difference between the people and groups being attacked.
In Barr’s tweet, a person of privilege — white, wealthy, celebrity — attacked not just one marginalized individual, but an entire marginalized population. By likening Jarett to an ape, she called upon centuries of racism and violence that malign an entire population of people. When Bee made her crass comment, she insulted one of the most powerful, most privileged, and most protected women in the world while attacking her silence around Trump’s immigration policies. Bee also leveled her attack at someone who is, like her, a white woman and a celebrity. The damage caused by each is vastly different: In Barr’s case, she further normalized racist rhetoric, whereas in Bee’s case, she hurt the First Daughter’s feelings — not the feelings of white women everywhere.
Despite these obvious differences, there is still a battle cry on the right demanding Bee’s head, or at least her show, on a silver platter — including the official White House statement calling for Full Frontal‘s cancellation. There are many people making the argument that if Barr can be “censored” for her Twitter comments, Bee should suffer the same consequences. This argument ignores one key fact: Barr was not, in fact, censored.
A private company choosing to fire an employee is not censorship. The White House and the President of the United States demanding a show’s cancellation because he disagrees with its content, however, is.
While there are plenty of people who want to make these separate issues two sides of the same coin, they simply are not. Being racist and being crude are not the same thing, and trying to say they are normalizes bigotry. It’s dangerous.