Roseanne Barr’s recent racist rant isn’t surprising to most Black people. In fact, it is the exact type of commentary Black folks have to encounter ALL THE TIME.
Most damaging are the “Roseannes” who work in schools and educate our children.
A recent Washington Post story dug in on surveys of Black elementary school children and concluded that something in their elementary school experiences is making them feel “awkward and out of place.” I have a good guess as to what that something is. Implicit racial bias and racism from White school administrators, teachers, and institutions are something we need to address as a nation.
We need to get rid of the “Roseannes” who work in our education system.
- We know that Black kids are disproportionately punished and expelled compared to White students.
- We know that the implicit bias (also known as racism) of many White teachers leads to academic failure and a school to prison pipeline.
- We know that this implicit bias (also known as racism) against Black kids by White teachers starts before kindergarten.
Yet we continue to accept racism in schools. Our scattershot efforts to counter implicit bias or remove a White supremacist teacher pale in comparison to the harm being inflicted daily on Black students and other students of color.
Being suspended from school in kindergarten is a severe consequence.
Being in poor, underfunded schools is a severe consequence.
Having your odds of going to prison stand higher than your odds of going to college is a severe consequence.
My favorite contemporary writer on race, Kiese Laymon, has written the best, most accurate and honest description of racism from a Black perspective I’ve ever read in his book, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America”:
If white American entitlement meant anything, it meant that no matter how patronizing, unashamed, deliberate, unintentional, poor, rich, rural, urban, ignorant and destructive white Americans could be, black Americans were still encouraged to work for them, write to them, listen to them, talk with them, run from them, emulate them, teach them, dodge them and ultimately thank them for not being as [f–d] up as they could be.
That’s it. White American entitlement to racism trumps anything. Listening, living, working, and engaging with people like Roseanne has always been a necessary tool of survival for Black Americans. We had to work for them, cook for them, clean their houses, let them be our social workers, teachers, landlords, and police officers, no matter how racist they were—implicitly or explicitly.
Roseanne Barr’s comments caused an unusual outcry, but she’s not alone in that thinking. Like many other Black people, I have heard similar sentiments come out of the mouths of my teachers. But on the outside we smile and pretend it’s OK, so we can survive in our schools. It’s all part of surviving in America.
Dealing with Roseanne and all the others like her has been and remains an ugly and troubling part of the American package. To be perfectly clear, Black people’s very survival depends on their reactions to racism and how they accept and react to White racists. Reacting to racism must be done calmly, making sure not to hurt White people’s feelings when they are being racist.
When “Roseanne” was canceled, 200 people lost their jobs, and some of them were people of color and Black folks. They probably had to laugh at racist jokes or pretend not to be affected as they did their jobs to make the show a success and provide a living to take care of their family. Maya Angelou and Paul Lawrence Dunbar described the survival tactics that Black people adopted to sustain themselves in the face of White racism in the beautiful poem called “The Mask.”
My hope is that my children don’t live in a world that accepts racism as normal. Maybe one day, accepting White racism and dealing with “Roseannes” won’t be part of Black Americans’ social contract with America. Maybe one day—I say this prayerfully for my children—“White racism” will be unacceptable, and Black children will attend school without fear and shame making them feel like the ones who don’t belong.
Maybe one day we will truly have zero tolerance for racists and will hold them accountable instead of making Black people adjust to their racism. Hopefully we can say a big Beyonce-style, “Girl, bye!” to all the “Roseannes” now lurking in our schools, just like ABC said, “Girl, bye!” to the real Roseanne.
Photo courtesy of ABC.