Rebel Commentary: Would You Hire A Racist?
Rebel is Rebecca Carroll‘s regular column on race and pop culture. You can hear Rebecca talk about these issues with guests on Wednesday mornings on WNYC, or participate in one of Rebel’s monthly conversations in The Greene Space.
This week a white Seattle man, Steven Jay Watts, went on a public tirade, hurling racial slurs at a black man on the street. Last month in Midtown, a safety poster was found at a construction site that showed a black man with a noose around his neck. We’ve seen a steep increase in public displays of racism since President Trump took office, and at least one instance with swift and real consequences, when ABC cancelled Roseanne Barr’s show following her string of racist tweets.
The show’s cancellation marked the first instance of a high profile figure being fired for racism during the #MeToo Movement, when a spate of high-profile figures like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer have been forced out of their jobs for sexual assault. But what about the racist outbursts that occur outside of someone’s workplace? Watts was arrested for harassment and obstruction, but should he be eligible for a job? Would you hire a racist?
That is the question I asked a panel of critics and thought leaders at a live event I hosted this week at the Jerome L. Greene Space as part of the #RebelConvo series. Kara R. Brown, co-host of the podcast Keep It, writer and comedian Ziwe Fumudoh, and author and activist Mona Eltahawy joined me in a conversation to define the parameters of racism, and to try to establish what concrete repercussions might be. It’s important to define racism, because we can’t tear down racism if we can’t agree what it means. Most of us on the panel agreed that racism is the abuse of systemic power by white people to dehumanize people of color. But things start to get complicated when people, mostly white, co-opt the less blunt term “racial” and turn it into a euphemism for racism.