Just a month after Roseanne Barr’s triumphant and Trumpian return to television generated a massive and enthusiastic response, her eponymous show has been canceled. As you no doubt know by now, the cancellation came after Barr posted a tweet comparing an accomplished black woman to an ape. ABC’s decision to end the show’s successful run surprised some, but Barr’s tweet surprised no one in particular. Barr’s tendency to use Twitter to engage in conspiracy mongering and hate speech was so well-known, in fact, that both her biological and her television children had attempted to keep her off of the platform for the month leading up to her show’s return to television.
They did not succeed and in failing so publically and so spectacularly, they are now living the worst-case scenario imagined by every child of an aging parent trying to get Grandpa or Grandma off of social media in order to prevent them from making an ass of themselves.
Once upon a time, old racists like Roseanne had few avenues to vent their views. They might spew uncomfortable invective at the dinner table or say dumb stuff to people working in a service job, but they lacked real soapboxes. Families could avoid humiliation by strategically turning conversations or avoiding ethnic restaurants. Granted, this didn’t always work. Bigots will out. There were always strained interactions and mumbled apologies.
But now, all an elderly xenophobe has to do is open an app, tap out a poorly formed, perhaps Ambien-fueled thought and there it is, undeniable as the nose on their racist face. Soon enough, their thoughts are fodder for the digital world and its bottomless well of outrage.
Now gramps feelings about the family down the street don’t just trigger an uncomfortable silence. They start a roar.
The old guard can now tell the entire world to get off their lawn. And that raises the stakes for their kids, who are largely powerless to stop it. This is why we must all understand that Barr’s kids and her family are not to be faulted for her racism. This is, as Valerie Jarrett, the target of Barr’s ire, suggested, a teachable moment. But the lesson is unexpected: Don’t conflate the views of aging parents with those of their children.
And for children of parents prone to outbursts, there is a second lesson as well: Don’t come to their aid. Just let it sit there. The Barr kids aren’t doing press (not yet anyway) and there’s no reason they should. There’s nothing to say and it’s not their fault. Parents, who once had to teach children to be presentable, now have to do the same for their parents. It’s a lot to ask — too much. And it should come as no surprise when they fail. And, yes, the consequence of that failure may be very real.
Whether or not Roseanne is a racist, she said something racist and her show was justifiably canceled because of that statement. There’s not much to see here other than a woman humiliating herself.
Should Barr’s children actively distance themselves from their mother? That’s too much to ask. Mom is mom. It has always been thus. They can feel hurt and redfaced in private and they can try to take Twitter away from their famous materfamilias. Good luck to them and good luck with that.