On Speech and Consequences: Roseanne and Kaepernick

Yesterday, ABC fired Roseanne Barr for her racism (after hiring her and promoting her offensive tweets as a reason advertisers should be behind the show), a move that prompted a lot of people to compare her to Colin Kaepernick – some in defense of one, some in defense of the other, but too often dealing in abstractions.

Here’s how I parse the difference:

It’s not really very difficult to tell the difference between kneeling to protest anti-black violence and making racist comments about a black woman being descended from an ape. We don’t have to dwell in the world of abstractions here (we /do/ when talking about state censorship and prosecution for speech acts, where defending offensive speech is a leading bulwark against fascism).

The racist New York lawyer who threatened to call ICE on people speaking Spanish should experience professional and social consequences for his act. The author writing that women who have abortions should be hanged should experience professional and social consequences for voicing his horrific idea.

The right wing is going to respond to the firing of Barr with accusations of hypocrisy, that saying negative things about the president, for example, is equivalent, or that the NFL like ABC can do what they like and we’re hypocrites for criticizing one and praising the other. This may even have a certain abstract truth.

But we live in a real world. There are lots of gray areas and complexities when talking about speech, but sometimes, it’s pretty clear: Fire overt racists, protect overt anti-racists.

We can do this. 

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