“Color Us Connected – Consequential Words” is the latest in a series of articles under the headline “Color Us Connected” that was motivated by the sister city relationship involving South Berwick, Maine and Tuskegee. This week Karin Hopkins and Amy Miller use Roseanne Barr’s recent firing as a springboard for their columns.
By Karin Hopkins
Roseanne Barr surmised in her now infamous tweet that if the Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby, it would be Valerie Jarrett. With those words Roseanne set off a firestorm of outrage. Why did she associate Valerie Jarrett with the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it because Ms Jarrett’s parents were living in Iran when she was born?
Her father, Dr. James Edward Bowman, was an American physician who specialized in pathology, hematology and genetics. In 1955, he left the United States to get away from racial segregation and took a job at a hospital for children in Shiraz, Iran. Why attack Ms. Jarrett for her birthplace? Why attack her at all?
That reference to the movie “Planet of the Apes” was a throwback to a dark chapter in American history. The monkey comparison suggests that black people are inferior to white people. And when white supremacists act on this irrational misjudgment it can lead to unspeakable atrocities.
Valerie Jarrett has been quietly going about her business, out of the spotlight for almost two years. So why did Roseanne go after this accomplished woman? Google her name and you will learn that Ms. Jarrett earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of Michigan.
She began her professional life in Chicago, working for Mayor Harold Washington as deputy corporation counsel for finance and development. She also was deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley. This phase of her career set her on a path to the White House. It was Valerie Jarrett who hired Michelle Robinson for a position in Chicago municipal government. At that time Michelle was the fiancé of Barack Obama, who ultimately was elected president. He chose Valerie Jarrett to be his senior advisor.
Ms. Jarrett is also the great-granddaughter of architect Robert R. Taylor, who designed most of the buildings on the Tuskegee University campus. In 1888, he became the first African-American student to attend the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Valerie Jarrett responded to the furor over the insulting tweet with remarkable class, calling it a “teaching moment.” I choose to follow her lead and educate readers about her distinguished credentials and exceptional DNA.
By Amy Miller
When your son tells you to shut up, or your daughter tells her friend she is fat, you probably admonish the child not to use that sort of language. Your saucy second grader may put her hands on her hips and retort: “This is America; there’s freedom of speech.”
Yes there is, we explain to our children, but some speech is nasty, inappropriate or thoughtless. And sometimes there are consequences for what comes out of our mouth.
Lately, the national stage has hosted a slew of speech-related controversies – flying Confederate flags, kneeling during the national anthem, and calling a former African American White House aide the offspring of apes. These controversies have sparked that defiant comeback of an 8-year-old – “this is America; we have freedom of speech” – on comment pages, op-eds and on Facebook.”
I repeat, the First Amendment is not an open invitation to bully; it is a protection against government intrusion.A closed Facebook page in my community recently hosted an extended debate about the Confederate flag. A post asking that a local driver might “restrain themselves from such hateful displays” was followed by posts claiming the flag is a sign of Southern heritage and not necessarily a symbol of racism, which was then followed by posts explaining the racist history of the Confederate flag. Many posts proclaimed the flag-holder’s right to display and the importance of freedom of speech.
We may or may not like what Roseanne Barr said about former White House aide Valerie Jarrett, or that Colin Kaepernick knelt at football games, or that neighbors drive around with Confederate flags on their tails. Free speech gives us the right to disagree about these things, or even to be offensive – without getting arrested.
The First Amendment does not, however, exempt any of us from taking responsibility for choosing our words with thought and for how our words affect others. It does not preclude or even discourage consequences from other citizens that may take the form of criticism, protest or even the loss of a job.
Roseanne Barr paid that price. As did Colin Kapernick. But Roseanne paid a price for deeply insulting language, while Colin paid the price for being willing to protest injustice in hopes of a stronger America.
You can contact Amy and Karin at firstname.lastname@example.org