Yes, Rosanne’s show had to go.
“It is the ultimate presumption of #WhitePrivilege when you think you can call a black woman an ape… When it’s a black woman that signs your checks.” – Star Jones
It wasn’t long ago that Serena Williams adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated in the buff. A hurricane of comments came from all directions equating her body to that of a man and/or a horse. Michelle Obama was also compared to an animal even though she was married to the man who held the highest office in America. The articles and essays that followed were an education on the racist American pastime of likening black bodies to animals. As was pointed out in LA Sha’s 2015 essay “From Cages to Covers,” “The most common comparison of black people to animals equates us to monkeys, chimps or apes.”
I wanted to see what a canon of work based on relating black people to primates looks like on Google. I typed “history of blacks compared to monkeys” in the search engine. There was no shortage of work.
The big danger in relating black bodies to animals is it’s dehumanizing. When we accept, tolerate or are indifferent to dehumanizing people because of skin color, we become desensitized to the violence perpetrated upon people of color. In his book Less than Human, author David Livingstone Smith argues that it’s important to define and describe dehumanization, because it’s what opens the door for cruelty and genocide. He says, “When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures. Only then can the process liberate aggression and exclude the target of aggression from the moral community.”
On May 29, Lawrence O’Donnell spoke to the firing of Rosanne Barr from ABC/Disney after I had spent the day arguing on Facebook with people, specifically white people, who couldn’t figure out why Rosanne had to lose her show over a racist, dehumanizing tweet. Lawrence O’Donnell laid the game down flat. To paraphrase, “Rosanne Barr, as a broadcast member of ABC/Disney, put in jeopardy the character of every actor, producer and writer on the payroll, including Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis and the president of ABC/Disney, Channing Dungey, who will have to answer to reporters and to America how they can explain and accept being in a business that allows this (dehumanizing) behavior.”