Roseanne, Racism, and ‘The Planet of the Apes’
I’m reluctant to write on this subject for a long list of solid reasons:
- I’ve never seen Roseanne’s show. Not in its old incarnation, not in the new one. I’ve seen more than my share of loveably oafish blue-collar life up close and personal in my family. For instance, the year we finished Thanksgiving dinner in 17 minutes. One of the entrees? Dinosaur shaped microwaved chicken nuggets. (No, there were no children present.) No thanks.
- One group of conservatives, whom I’ll neutrally call the “Insufferables,” is using this deeply stupid incident to preen and virtue signal. Their goal? To impress the old classmates from Vassar who will hate them whatever they do. (Short of “transitioning” to the opposite sex, converting to Islam, and endorsing Bernie Sanders.) Or maybe to swing one more guest spot on All Things Considered.
- Another set, the reflexive “Deplorables,” is rallying behind Roseanne Barr’s “free speech” or something. But not ABC’s freedom to hire and fire. (Which should mirror the NFL’s, of course.) If Roseanne had shot someone on Fifth Avenue …. You get the idea.
- Roseanne Barr is an actress, and hence an under-educated nutcase. With very few exceptions (Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan) actors are people you should watch from a very safe distance, who should stick to reading words written by others. Don’t date them or trust their political opinions. (Remember the great exchange from Mel Brooks’ The Producers. LEO: “Actors aren’t animals! They’re human beings!” MAX: “Have you ever eaten with one?!”)
- Months ago, National Review ran a suitable warning about Ms. Barr’s long list of crackpot views. They including blaming George Bush for 9/11, and the Nazis for Zionism. (As if Zionism were a bad thing.) President Trump wouldn’t thank you for tying him to any of them. Neither would the unborn children and American workers he’s trying to protect.
- I enjoy tasteless humor, and have been guilty of engaging in it in the past. Some of it (from when I was a teenager) I genuinely regret.
- I detest Valerie Jarrett, who is a foaming at the mouth radical leftist. Barr’s outburst helped insulate her from legitimate criticism.
- There really is a screaming double standard, as the White House is pointing out. The vast, groupthink media establishment winks at liberals’ insane abuses. (Kathy Griffin, Rosie O’ Donnell, Keith Olbermann, fill in dozens more names here.) Then it turns Victorian schoolmarm when a Trump supporter crosses the line.
- Roseanne Barr really did cross a legitimate line. As I’ll explain below.
Okay, now that we’ve cleared all that up, let’s proceed.
Can Only White Folks Be Racists? Ask the Tutsis.
First of all, what’s not true. It’s not true that only white people can be racists. If it were, then you’d have to find another word for what it was when Hutus in Rwanda labeled equally black Tutsis “cockroaches” and massacred them. Or when thugs in Zimbabwe or South Africa target white farmers for ethnic cleansing. Or when Arabs try to massacre Jews.
Jesse Jackson once called abortion “black genocide.” White racist leader Richard Spencer seems to agree with him. And you know what else Jesse and Richard agree on? They’re both in favor of it.
In a slightly more sophisticated, more openly Marxist form, this argument is little better. It defines “racism” as attitudes or actions that perpetuate historic discrimination. So if you’re part of a group that was ever privileged, you’re always on the hook. If you’re in a group that ever suffered oppression, you’re coated in moral Teflon. I heard this nonsense from a “diversity” expert invited by the Catholic bishop of Baton Rouge in the ’90s. He was trying to deal with the rise of David Duke. So he meant well. So did the U.S. bishops, whose pastoral letter echoes this Marxist line. But you don’t fight lies with lies. You don’t counter hatred with gibberish. At least, Jesus didn’t.
Narcissism Writ Large
Racism belongs in ethical, not political categories. It’s a human temptation, an extension of narcissism from the single, fallen human soul to a group. Just as every human is subject to each of the Seven Deadly Sins, so are groups of humans. Racism would seem to be “Vainglory” writ large.
What is Vainglory? I defined it in my (by the way very funny and still available for purchase) book on the Seven Deadlies. “Vainglory teaches people to preen themselves and be proud of nothing real, or nothing for which they really deserve any credit—for instance, they’re proud to be pretty or white or tall.”
A crucial, life-changing point: The opposite of every deadly sin is another. Virtue lies in the Golden Mean between them. “You can counter this vice by the starkly honest practice of Humility, which takes a frank account of one’s actual pluses and minuses. Or you can panic at the prospect you might, just might, be proud—and learn to rip yourself to little, despairing shreds through Scrupulosity.” And that is the left’s answer to racial Vainglory: racial self-hatred.
A Time for Humility
A genuinely humble Christian response to racism? That would entail being honest. And as Americans, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that black people (along with Native Americans) got a uniquely raw deal in our country. Not in Sweden. Nor in the Czech Republic. Not in a long list of countries full of white folks.
Right here, in America. Our civic ancestors bought them as slaves and dragged them here. We justified that by pretending they were animals, suited to little else. Then after slavery ended, we let most of the country (not just the South) enforce laws that treated blacks like animals. And our pop culture included plenty of stereotyped, animalistic images of them. That helped us feel okay about it.
As Americans, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that black people (along with Native Americans) got a uniquely raw deal in our country. Not in Sweden. Nor in the Czech Republic. Not in a long list of countries full of white folks. Right here, in America.
Even now, our government sluices money into Planned Parenthood. That group was founded by people who treated blacks as quasi-animals. As The Stream reported in 2016, Margaret Sanger’s close ally “Madison Grant, a prominent Darwin apostle and eugenicist, helped to exhibit Ota Benga, an African pygmy, in a cage with an orangutan for ten days at New York City’s Bronx Zoo, to ‘illustrate evolution.’ Mr. Benga took his own life ten years later.”
See the problem with jokes about the Planet of the Apes?
And Planned Parenthood is still targeting blacks with abortion to this day. Jesse Jackson once called abortion “black genocide.” White racist leader Richard Spencer seems to agree with him. And you know what else Jesse and Richard agree on? They’re both in favor of it.
A Near Occasion of Sin
So I’d say that we should apply a stricter scrutiny on tasteless humor aimed at African Americans (and Native Americans). Not because of a power structure, or some absurd double standard that favors the left. No, because we white Americans have proven very good at treating black people like animals. We kind of enjoyed it. It seems to be a temptation to which we’re subject. So we should flee the occasion of sin. But without lapsing into the opposite, equally dangerous temptation: self-loathing and self-congratulatory preening.
President Trump seems to tread this balance rather well. He really does want to help black Americans climb out of systemic poverty and dependence. (That’s a key reason he wants to stop flooding the country with low-price foreign workers.) And the Democrats can’t have that, can they?