Valerie Jarrett, who was an adviser to President Barack Obama, on Tuesday associated President Trump with the racist insult that Roseanne Barr directed at her earlier in the day and which led to the actress/comedian’s show being canceled by ABC.
“Tone starts at the top, and we like to look up to our president and feel as though he reflects the values of our country,” Jarrett said in a televised town hall discussion titled “Everyday Racism” hosted by MSNBC. “I also think every individual citizen has a responsibility, too, and it’s up to all of us to push back. Our government is only going to be as good as we make it.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who appeared alongside Jarrett in the MSNBC town hall, had harsh words for Barr and for Trump, who he said had long engaged in “dog-whistling” to racists. “When you have a president who started his political career around birtherism [a campaign questioning Obama’s citizenship by birth] … people like Roseanne feel they’re empowered,” he said. But he praised the swift move to cancel Barr’s show: “They got the memo today — you’re not empowered.”
And Jarrett said the depersonalized nature of social media contributes to the tone of some of the rhetoric on social media. “You don’t have to look in the faces of those you’re attacking,” she said.
“I’m fine,” Jarrett said, after saying she wanted to make the incident, which dominated the news on Tuesday, “a teaching moment” instead of being about her.
“I’m worried about all the people out there who don’t have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense — the person who’s walking down the street minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse or run across the street,” she said. “Or every black parent I know who has a boy who has to sit down and have a conversation, ‘the talk’ as we call it. … Those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day.”
In an hours-long Twitter rant on Tuesday, Barr used racist language in a tweet that identified the administration official by her initials: “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” Though she later claimed it was “a joke,” she issued a fuller apology after more intense criticism was directed toward her and ABC. “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she wrote. “I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste.”
The apology was not enough for ABC, which announced soon afterward that it would not return “Roseanne” to the air, as planned, for a second season beginning in the fall.
During the town hall, Jarrett seemed satisfied with the network’s response. Disney chief Bob Iger called Jarrett to personally apologize before the show’s cancellation was announced, she said. “He said he had zero tolerance … and I appreciate that,” she said.