Things are quickly falling apart for Roseanne Barr.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday morning, Barr lashed out at a number of targets, recited several conspiracy theories, and, among other things, falsely claimed that Chelsea Clinton was married to a member of the Soros family, adding that George Soros was a Nazi.
The kicker came, however, when she tweeted that former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is black, was the product of a combination of an ape and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Comedian Wanda Sykes, a consulting producer on Roseanne, immediately announced that she would no longer work on the show. Barr’s agency, ICM Partners, said that they were dropping her from their roster for the “disgraceful and unacceptable tweet.” And ABC, which earlier this year staunchly defended its decision to bring back a controversial revival of Barr’s sitcom Roseanne and renewed it for an additional season in March, announced that it would be canceling the series.
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values,” said ABC president Channing Dungey, “and we have decided to cancel her show.”
Before the cancellation announcement, Barr issued an apology on Twitter, saying that the remarks were a “joke” that was made “in bad taste”. She added that she was leaving the social media platform.
As the backlash continued, several media outlets also picked up on Barr’s tweets, with some openly referring to the comments about Jarrett as racist (others avoided using the word). Even Fox News, which has a long and storied history with racism on its own airwaves, called out Barr’s comments, with anchor Shepard Smith saying “racism is not funny and Roseanne Barr is a racist,” at the top of his show. Emily Nussbaum, a TV critic for the New Yorker, noted on Twitter that the New York Times actually modified its headline, changing from calling Barr’s comments “offensive” to referring to them as “racist.”
Barr’s tweet comes as the media is increasingly calling attention to racism and racial bias
There was a time when swift, pointed reaction from mainstream media outlets wouldn’t have happened. Racist references to African Americans as apes and monkeys have been around for a long time, and President Obama, Michelle Obama, and other members of his White House were the victims of such slurs, some of which were printed in news magazines. In fact, this isn’t even the first time Barr has made such a comment: She said something similar about former Obama adviser Susan Rice in 2013.
But Barr’s tweets on Tuesday come in the midst of an extended — and certainly overdue —conversation about race, prompted by several factors.
High-profile cases of police brutality against people of color, a recent spate of racial profiling incidents, Donald Trump’s presidency, and concerns about an increase of white supremacist groups, have all played a role. It’s difficult for comments like Barr’s to go unchallenged in an environment where race has become such a salient issue.
It would be easy to look at these incidents and argue that they are very different from one another. But for the people they affect, that isn’t the case. Each is rooted in history: The longstanding use of police against people of color, the denial of equal access to public spaces, and the spread of offensive stereotypes have all been deployed to deny humanity to black people.
Make no mistake — these types of racist remarks and incidents have been happening for a long time. And the media’s attention right now doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is going away.