Less than three months after the premiere of the Roseanne reboot, its leading star managed to bring about her demise with the racism that brought her back on top in the first place. Early this morning, Roseanne Barr tweeted that Valerie Jarrett, an African-American former senior advisor to President Obama, was a combination of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. Soon after, she defended the tweet as a joke, before releasing an apology and a statement that she was leaving Twitter. From there the domino effect began: Wanda Sykes, a consulting producer for the show, decided not to return for the second season. This was quickly followed by a statement from Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, that Roseanne would be cancelled. If it was shocking that ABC issued a response and cancelled the show so quickly, it’s even more disillusioning to consider how it took such an egregious tweet from a woman who has never obscured who she was to the media or the public at large.
For decades, Roseanne has been a provocateur, whether it’s crotch-grabbing, singing the Star-Spangled Banner or posing as Hitler for a satirical Jewish magazine. Barr has always been one who ruffles feathers and recognizes lines with the intention of crossing them. The reboot of her show was a fraught proposition: Now Roseanne Conner was a Trump supporter, an allegiance motivated by her being working-class, like the millions of Americans who voted for the same candidate. In an interview with The New York Times, Roseanne said about the reboot, “It’s about everything in our country. It’s about opioids and health care. How we deal with whole new issues that we didn’t even have before, like gender-fluid kids. How working class people — how and why they elected Trump.” Yet there’s no mention of race here, let alone the ways in which race intersects with class. Like the many newspaper and magazine features that have spotlighted the need for working-class white people to be further understood, Roseanne just served to further normalize the bigotry that gets dressed up as “economic anxiety.”
Bringing back the show was a nostalgia play or cash grab. But the executives who revived it ignored the fact that Barr’s behavior has long been unacceptable. Her comment about Valerie Jarrett shouldn’t be shocking: It’s in line with how she’s always been. Barr and her now-canceled show perfectly embody America in 2018: The inability to recognize how disgusting racism is until it’s too obvious to miss. It shouldn’t have taken the mocking of a black public figure to get her show cancelled. The bar shouldn’t be that high. Why does a racist remark have to go viral for there to be repercussions?
For ABC, Barr’s past behavior was just background noise; the network didn’t see that it was a harbinger of what was to come. Ultimately, they made the right decision. But they shouldn’t have given her the platform in the first place.