I won’t lie, I was shocked to see ABC cancel their highest-rated sitcom over its star Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet against former Barack Obama cabinet member Valerie Jarrett. In this day and age, where money seems to rule the day, it was both courageous and refreshing to see a Hollywood entity that is in business to make gazillions of dollars actually sacrifice the Almighty Dollar to uphold its principles.
Roseanne Barr is a staunch supporter of the current president — that’s her business. She has aligned herself with many of his views on race; again, that’s her prerogative. She has peddled in racism and bigotry for years before this costly tweet and has gotten away with it because, well, she made a lot of money for the networks she worked for. She then re-established her larger than life character with the reboot of her record-breaking sitcom this year and received a boost of support from the president the day after her relaunch success. Roseanne was untouchable — or so she thought.
In the current climate, some people now feel empowered to spew bigoted comments — once reserved for private conversations — publicly on social media. The impetus for this can be debated — but not with me. The point I’m making is although people, especially those in the highest positions, feel they can unleash their intolerance and hatred toward others without consequence, they may want to think again. Our society still has much work to do, obviously, but due to the evolution of race relations and treatment of people in general, there are now many in high positions that will not tolerate such primitive behavior. With this in mind, I don’t think it was a coincidence that this groundbreaking decision was made under the watch of Channing Dungey, the first African-American (woman) to head programming at a major broadcast network. The more diversity there is in powerful positions, the more we will see unambiguous messages sent that intolerance of people based on race, religion or other biasses will not be tolerated – even if it costs millions of dollars. This was not about political correctness, it was about values over money, right over wrong.
I made the case in a recent blog post that the NFL’s decision to ban its players from kneeling during the national anthem was not a First Amendment violation. The same is true in this case, but what we say and do in public can have severe consequences. If you post something on social media that your employer deems offensive and antithetical to the company’s values, he or she has every right to fire you without recourse. In the same way, Roseanne found out the hard way she is not above others who espouse such rhetoric on social media. The only difference is she had more to lose – a lot more! Many will inevitably complain that her First Amendment rights were violated — good luck with that argument. The fact of the matter is she exhibited abhorrent behavior that violated her company’s model of inclusion, equality, and values of diversity.
So, what does this mean for our culture going forward? Does it mean people will now carefully consider the consequences of their actions and refrain from publicly stating their personal views about others? Does it mean we will collectively demand a higher standard from those with large public platforms? I don’t know the answer to either of these, nor does it matter. The most important thing I took from this news is that no amount of celebrity or money justified such intolerable behavior. In the past this may have been acceptable; and had there been someone else heading ABC today, perhaps Roseanne would still be employed. But she crossed the line. She and those who choose to publicly espouse their offensive opinions about race and religion will likewise have to live with the consequences. I strongly applaud this decision as it was great for ABC, reflective of America, and well deserved for Roseanne.