Univision commentator Rodner Figueroa said this on TV earlier this week: “You know that Michelle Obama looks like she’s from the cast of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ the movie.”
Other commentators have asked “What’s the big deal? People call Donald Trump a stupid cracker and nobody gets fired.” Or “Why is it OK to call the Palins White Trailer Trash?”
The difference is that there is no deep, dark, long history of people who look like Donald Trump being hung by trees or shot or whipped or chained, just for being a cracker. The whole genre of commentary/comedy designed to make comparisons between black people and monkeys is inextricably linked to a tradition of dehumanizing blacks to make it easier to lynch/abuse/murder them.
Hence, it is a much touchier subject.
Univision did the smart thing here by extricating Figueroa from its airwaves. And it must be pointed out, there are no first amendment issues here. The government did not force Univision to fire Figueroa. Univision, presumably, decided that defending Figueroa from charges of racism wasn’t a battle they wanted. People often forget the First Amendment does not give someone a constitutional right to get paid lots of money to make wildly inflammatory statements; the amendment simply states that the government can’t prevent you from making them.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the scars of slavery from 150 years ago, it’s the open wounds from Ferguson, MO that are still festering in America. Those wounds are going to have to heal and become distant memories before certain casual observations or jokes can be made without careers being destroyed.
TJ Walker is a crisis communications consultant. You can reach him at Media Training Worldwide at 212.764.4955.