Editorial: Stars never align for a serious talk

  • Roseanne Barr’s tweet got everybody talking, but not about what really matters. AP

Friday, June 01, 2018

America is a celebrity-obsessed country, and that’s not news. It’s one of the biggest reasons why Donald Trump, resident of reality TV, is now Donald J. Trump, resident of the White House. But this week’s media focus on Roseanne Barr and her tweet about former Obama administration adviser Valerie Jarrett is good example of just how broken the national dialogue has become – especially when it comes to race.

We won’t repeat the tweet here, or weigh in on it, because it would just add to the noise – and there’s a lot of noise. Here are some of the headlines from the New York Times over the past few days: “Celebrities, activists, and Barr react to ‘Roseanne’ news”; “Roseanne Barr, back on Twitter, has more to say”; “White House says Trump is not defending Barr”; “Barr unleashes new tweetstorm hours after firing.” And that’s not counting the multiple Times op-eds on the subject from Lindy West, Bret Stephens, Charles M. Blow, Roxane Gay – there may have been others. We’re not trying to pick on the Times, or the thoughtful contributions of its opinion writers, but Barr is a comedian and sitcom actress whose tweet came as a surprise to almost nobody. We know she’s a shiny celebrity object, and that shiny objects keep the online world spinning, but there was never a chance that she would be the catalyst for a true national conversation about race.

All we have learned from the exhaustive coverage is that the debate on the main stage, whether Roseanne Barr is racist, is the easiest one to have – and the least important.

But that’s the way it works these days.

Remember Colin Kaepernick? He’s the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has been blackballed by the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem. Whatever your opinion of Kaepernick, his actions were never about kneeling or patriotism or the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But the American public as a whole wasn’t ready or willing to discuss police brutality or racial inequality in any kind of productive way, as Kaepernick and those who joined him had hoped, so there was a big pivot. Forget about why he’s kneeling, because that would require a deep dive into the unpleasant world of institutional racism. Better to separate the kneelers from the standers and let them argue about who loves their country more.

The big American sit-down about racism will have to wait while the masses sort out whether Kaepernick’s citizenship should be revoked. But what’s another delay for a talk that’s been on the back-burner for centuries?

We understand that it often takes a big event or a big personality to bring important conversations to the public’s attention. It’s just too bad that once people see the shiny object, they have trouble seeing anything else.