— Dr. Shirley & Steve (@ShirleyandSteve) July 8, 2015
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If you haven’t heard yet, Amy Schumer and pal Lena Dunham are the latest in a long line of once-revered celebrities who are suddenly just your run-of-the-mill racists.
It seems that, overnight, everyone is “done” with them.
Yesterday they were God(desse)s, today they’re the antichrist.
Usually, they come out with a perfectly polished apology (likely crafted by a PR exec) as soon as they are effectively buried in the media. Prior celebs with similar stories include Giuliana Rancic, Justin Timberlake, the dude from Catfish, the list goes on.
“Amy Schumer Posts and Immediately Deletes Incredibly Racist Tweet” and “I cannot support Amy Schumer and Lena Dumham anymore” are just two of over a dozen similar articles popping up all over social media in the wake of the recent racist tweets.
The nutshell version on Amy Schumers controversial tweet (I’m just gonna focus on Amy’s comment for the sake of brevity) is she asserted that “catcallers” are disproportionately men of color.
When I read the tweet, my first thought as a white woman having also grown up in NYC was, yeah, that’s been my experience too. My second thought was, personal experience does not equate to facts and the notion that black men have a monopoly on misogyny is reductive and ridiculous. The issue is far more complex than can be summed up in a tweet, and I need to examine the issue further.
My next thought was: I should just keep my experience and thoughts to myself, because I don’t want to sound racist.
I mean, I certainly don’t want to be known as “today’s” Amy Schumer among my people. Like everyone, I want to be “yesterday’s” Amy Schumer! When she was the spokesperson for feminism and average-sized women everywhere and was perfect and certainly not in the least bit racist! That she was perfect yesterday and a pariah today is also reductive and ridiculous.
That’s usually my last thought—to just keep potentially controversial thoughts to myself. I’d venture a guess that a lot of people are feeling that way. That its not safe to discuss certain issues or experiences. That you might be labeled racist, or sexist, or classist, or antisemetic, or homophobic, all of which is currently the worst PR a person can receive (unless of course you base your entire political campaign on it, which is apparently and terrifyingly effective).
But then another day and another decade goes by and all we have to show for it is calling each other out on offensive comments without ever addressing any of the actual issues. We’ve gotten pretty adept at targeting the symptoms while consistently ignoring the disease.
So with the hope that we can all start moving just the tiniest bit forward, lets keep it very real for a moment. Of course Amy Schumer is racist! All white people are racist and all of us are at least somewhat biased (if you’re wondering why only us white people are classified as “racist,” then you are probably white and that’s cool but just look it up).
Most of us, at least in the United States, are under-educated and mis-educated about history, race, prejudice, privilege and overt and covert racism. We’re all indoctrinated by a racist (not to mention sexist and classist) media. Unless you grew up under a rock or had access to some magic inoculation against bulshit, at birth, some of that misinformation has managed to leak in.
Phew. So now that we’ve admitted that society has f*cked us all up, can we stop acting shocked and indignant when a celebrity says something offensive? Can we instead address it and talk about it and maybe even collectively figure out how to start re-educating ourselves?
Our current culture of shaming each other and insisting on apologies does nothing but perpetuate fear, ignorance, anger, and frustration. Why should any decent person care when a racist is angry and frustrated? Because these emotions are not conducive to learning, or growth, or change. Our current culture of being “done” with people, of deeming someone a social pariah the moment their bias is exposed, is simply not productive.
We are all products of an inherently biased formal and informal education. But there are those that choose to remain ignorant, to build a wall around their misconceptions (literally and figuratively) rather than have an open respectful honest dialogue.
These are the people we can be “done” with.
As for the rest of us, if we are to evolve even the tiniest bit in this lifetime, we have to start building a culture of honesty, patience, compassion, and ultimately communication.
Shame is not productive—and forced, phony apologies do not inspire growth.
Silence of any kind (even of the loudest voices) just builds more walls.
Author: Jenny Spitzer
Editor: Renée Picard