It’s been a while since I’ve watched daytime TV. Okay, it’s been about a decade. But, the formula certainly hasn’t changed in those years.
Every so often, my world of race and racism collide with something on daytime TV. And, today I caught this one about Rosie Perez and Kelly Osborne (thanks to Michael Pina who posted it originally).
Certainly, read the whole thing if you like. But, here is the very brief version:
- Kelly Osborne made a remark about Donald Trump and his references to Mexicans, the border, etc. Cool. Love it. Until she says this, “If you kick every Latino out of the country, then who is going to clean your toilets, Donald Trump.”
- Ouch. Ooooh. No she didn’t.
- Rosie Perez, famed Puerto Rican movie star and co-host of The View, calls her out on her shit.
- Kelly gets flustered, backtracks, freaks out, they go to commercial.
- During commercial, executives swarm upon Rosie Perez saying she must apologize to Kelly Osborne. (now, read that sentence again…)
- Perez concedes. Not only apologizes but really does quite a big apology. Then goes to Twitter and apologizes.
- Osborne writes this:
So, props, Kelly. You apologized and took responsibility. So, why, then… oh why ... are you not identifying that your comments are a result of racism, racialized systems, our racialized understanding of Latinos (and, specifically in this example, Mexicans), and the problematic assumptions that have been ingrained in us about an entire racial and ethnic group?
Why couldn’t she just end with “… for my poor choice of words.” End. Done. Tweet that shit.
I was taught from a very early age that to use to term “BUT” in an apology simply undermines the apology. BUT, she ends with that part about NOT apologizing for being racist… because, you know, she is NOT.
Whatevs. I, like, half expected that.
But, why do we have such a problematic understanding of the word racist.
How do we even begin to untangle these feelings around the word “racist?”
A few years ago, I was leading a discussion group on race and racism (okay, I lie…. I could never have called it a group on race and racism. We had to call it a “diversity discussion group” for all of the problematic reasons you can come up with on your own). A White, middle aged man began by saying, “My name is _____ and I am a recovering racist.”
The room went silent. So did I.
I began to think, “He’s a recovering racist?? What the heck had he done in his life? Who did he beat up? Who did he lynch? Who did he spit on at a lunch counter?” Why? Because, even for me, the word racist brings up a limited library of images.
I think he sensed that the entire room was wondering the same thing. So, he added, “I’m racist because I participate in a system that has given me, as a White man, every advantage I could ever want while keeping people of color on the margins. I’m recovering because, every single day that I wake up, I need to actively remind myself of this because it’s too easy to forget. I have to commit to myself, every day, that every move I make is because I benefit from racism.”
Every day he does this.
No one makes him. No one asks him to. Heck, our world is even BUILT around the idea that he should never need to.
And, yet he does. Every day. He reminds himself that he is a recovering racist.
As it did to me, the word racist elicits a particular type of physical, visible, and deadly violence. And, we have seen far too often how racism continues to do that today.
But, racist also reminds us that there is entire system that is working so beautifully — so well — that when we use the term racist, all we can see is one image and fail to see the subtle, tiny ways in which the system keeps going.
I’m sure Kelly Osborne does not believe, in her heart and soul, that “if there were no Latinos in the country, no one would clean the toilets.” Maybe I’m giving her too much credit, but I have to believe that in order to wake up in this world. Having worked in this capacity with many White people who are trying to untangle their ideas about (and connection to) racism, I know that her comments are a result of many moving parts. She said that comment because of her earliest messages about Latinos; because of a racialized system that does disproportionately marginalize many people of color (of many different ethnic and racial groups) in areas such as (but certainly not limited to) economic advancement, educational opportunities, legalized status, and employment; because of a financial status that allowed her to even make comments about other people cleaning your own toilet; and because of a system of racism that keeps it all invisible.
And, yes, Kelly Osborne, because of all of those things — largely none caused by you as a single individual but rather a system of things that are put in place long before you were even born — your comment was racist. Just own it so that we can move past it with confidence that you won’t do it again — not because you worry about what people will say about you, but because what you will no longer believe.
Peace, love, and because I am not tired of the fight,