When Roseanne Barr was called out and subsequently fired for the racist tweet she made about Valerie Jarrett on Tuesday, two things happened at the same time.
First, white people feigned ignorance as to why saying a black woman was the love child of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes was racist. They found all types of ways to excuse Roseanne’s comments, including denying that she knew Jarrett was black. But let’s be clear: The only reason to make a reference like that is for the sole purpose of being offensive to a black person. Roseanne said what she said and she meant it. It was not her first time referring to a black person as an ape or monkey, and it likely won’t be her last—especially now that she doesn’t have anything else to lose.
The second thing that happened was at once strange, bewildering and amusing.
Roseanne stans and the “Make America great again” crowd found a tweet of mine from seven months ago in which I referred to current Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as a “monkey of the porch variety.”
That’s my way of saying “porch monkey.” The tweet has remained on my account since I originally tweeted it out. I never deleted it. I meant what I said in that moment.
At the time I originally sent it, the tweet got some responses—mostly people laughing and/or agreeing with me, but no “MAGA” outrage.
But after Roseanne’s show was canceled and she was called out for racism, her fans and the “MAGA” crowd were hungry for blood. They wanted someone to lash out at because why shouldn’t Roseanne be allowed to call a black woman an ape?
My tweet became the target of their selective umbrage, and my Twitter mentions became a proverbial dumpster fire as people accused me of being a racist and called for my employer, The Root, to fire me for being a racist.
Hi, guys. That’s not how any of this works.
First of all, The Root is not going to fire me for voicing my own opinion on my own Twitter account that actually includes a disclaimer that tells you that even though I write for The Root, my tweets are my own opinions and have nothing to do with my employer.
Second? I—a black woman—am not a racist for calling Ben Carson—a black man—a porch monkey.
Is my calling him that name mean? Maybe. Is it in poor taste? Depends on whom you ask. There is a large contingent of black folks who would actually agree with my sentiment.
What it is not, however, is racist. The statement is not racist because that is not how racism works.
Here, allow me to explain.
Merriam-Webster defines racism as follows:
2a : a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
b : a political or social system founded on racism
3: racial prejudice or discrimination
There are different types of racism, including institutionalized racism, internalized racism and individual racism.
Institutionalized racism is the foundation that this country was built on and is still in place today. It is the reason we need things like affirmative action. Systems were put in place that keep marginalized groups from having the same opportunities and advantages as white people. Don’t bother denying it; you know it’s true.
Internalized racism is when someone—say, a black person—believes all the negative things that white people say about black people. They internalize it and turn it outward onto other black people. Think
Pill Bill Cosby telling young black men to pull their pants up or telling Eddie Murphy not to cuss in his comedy sets. Think Stacey Dash calling Rep. Maxine Waters a buffoon and going on Fox News decrying her own people. Think Kanye West saying that slavery was a choice. All of these are good examples of internalized racism.
Individual racism is one person committing acts of racism against another—whether they be microaggressions or outright attacks against another person because of his or her race.
The thing that ties all of these together is the idea that one race (in this case, white people) is better than another race (black people, for this example).
There is an inherent power system built into racism. In this country, white people have held a privilege and station in society where they control everything—courts, businesses, banks and all other parts of everyday life. This country was made for them and they reap the benefits of racism—both institutional and individual.
I have no power over Ben Carson. I have no influence over his job, the opportunities that he will have in the future or anything like that.
We are both black. To that extent, I cannot be racist against him.
To be clear, this current outcry for me to lose my job over a tweet isn’t about any concern over my calling Carson a porch monkey.
None of these white people give a fuck about that.
What they do care about is defending Roseanne’s right to be a racist. What they care about is being excluded from using words they weaponized against us for years. It upsets them. It angers them. White people hate being left out of anything.
If any of these people cared about Carson, they would have sniffed this out and been on my neck seven months ago. Instead, they have jumped on this tweet and used it as a way to defend a white woman’s right to spew hateful language toward a black woman with impunity. It is epic concern trolling.
White people: This has never worked for you and it never will.
Calling Ben Carson a porch monkey does not make me a racist.
It just makes me able to say some shit that you can’t say, and that bothers you.