Monday, February 25, 2013
An Unequal and Opposite Overreaction
For those who figured that there was no way the controversy over The Onion's crude tweet involving Quvenzhané Wallis was going to simply vanish now that the website's CEO, Steve Hannah, has offered what appears to be a pretty sincere apology, give yourself a prize. Former president of Bennett College and current political commentator Julianne Malveaux, a very smart woman by any measure, is circulating through social media right now what she imagines will turn into a petition but what's inarguably a list of demands aimed at The Onion and its management.
I want you to remember something as you read this: Quvenzhané Wallis wasn't physically assaulted. Because of the Onion tweet that very unwisely used her to make an admittedly brutal comment on our popular culture, one that never should've been attempted at the potential expense of a 9-year-old girl, she won't spend years in therapy, nor will anyone else. No one else was physically or psychically harmed by one offensive bad joke (and anyone who claims otherwise is full of crap). There was no larger group that was demeaned here: not children, not African-Americans, not women, not actors or actresses, and there's no need for anyone besides possibly Wallis herself to demand any kind of satisfaction.
And yet, Julianne Malveaux has bestowed upon herself the right and privilege to decide what penance The Onion, a website that traffics in comedy, must pay to the community at large for its supposed sins. (In my opinion, the sin of making a joke that horribly misfired.) Julianne Malveaux has decided that The Onion's apology isn't good enough and that more action needs to be taken against the site. In essence, she's appointed herself and is drafting others to be enforcers of political correctness who deserve to be assured that The Onion will never cross the line -- whatever line they happen to determine is proper for all of society -- ever again. She believes that she and those who agree with her take on this miasma can and should serve as the arbiters of humor for our entire culture.
That's not only breathtakingly arrogant, it borders on flat-out crazy.
Here's the e-mail in its entirety, including not only Malveaux's letter to Steve Hannah but her entreaty to her friends to pass this along to anyone and everyone.
"Friends an dColleagues,
Please feel free to use all and any parts of thi to deal with the Onion. If there are those of you who will turn this into a petition, please do. I will be reaching out to women's organizations tomorrow. I remain incensed and the 'apology is simply note enough. I am modest in my 'demands' and at this point I am not working with others, but by tomorrow I will be. Take this to the next level if you will.
Dear Steve Hannah,
While your apology for the vile statement made by your staff regarding the wonderful and talented Quvenzhane’ Wallis is duly noted, it is an insufficient response to the heinous insult lobbed at a 9 year old girl. The communities of women, African American women in particular, and indeed the community of anyone with sensitivity, were utterly repelled by the ignorant genderized racism of your staffer. Thus, your apology is received, but not accepted. You must mitigate the damage that your comments caused, not only for Quvenzhane’, but also for the women who, reveling in her success, were damaged by the sucker punch we experienced when your writer found it acceptable to describe a 9 year old girl in a crude term for genitalia, a term at which most adult women would recoil.
Your apology might be more readily received if you and your team would:
1- Reveal the discipline that was imposed by the offensive writer, and that their identity was revealed so that their future offenses can be monitored,
2- Your company made amends to both Quenzhane’ and the community that supports her by;
a. Offering the organizations that monitor gender and racial discrimination through a financial contribution. My suggestion is that you direct at least $50,000 to The Black Women’s Roundtable, The National Organization for Women, and the National Council of Negro Women. Additionally, I would suggest that you offer $50,000 to the charity of Quvenzhane’s choice. If you choose to offer at least $200,000 to other organizations, you should reveal this information to the public.
b. Meeting with representatives of African American and women’s organizations in Washington DC on a date that is mutually agreeable, but no later than March 31, 2013 to discuss the thought process behind the insulting way a young black girl was described and the ways that future occurrences will be prevented.
c. Sharing information on the number of women and people of color on your staff, and share the ways that they impact editorial decisions.
3- Your company provides scholarship opportunities to African American women students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to indicate that you do not see young women in the disparaging ways, but as scholars and contributors. There are two HBCUs that are women’s institutions, Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. At least one scholarship for each of these institutions would be an effective way to offer recompense for your comments.
4- Your company provides speakers to the colleges that will have you to, at no fee to the colleges, explain the difference between satire and offense. To notify interested colleges, it is my suggestion that your company take out a full page advertisement in Diverse Issues in Higher Education to both reprint your apology and offer the opportunity for your staff to meet on colleges.
As an emerita president of an HBCU focused on women, I was repelled by your writer’s comments. Taking them down and then apologizing is the simple way out for this offense. I call upon you to take proactive action to redress this wrong.
I have no vested interest in any of the organizations I have mentioned here (except that I am President Emerita of Bennett College for Women). However, my constant association with young women and my association with young women make The Onion’s comments exceedingly offensive.
I am asking friends and colleagues to withdraw any support to The Onion until your apology is enhanced by action. I am also asking all women’s and African American organizations to join my insistence that your apology is insufficient. I expect that you will hear from them.
I do look forward to your response.
There's nothing wrong with being offended by The Onion's comment. There's everything wrong with taking that offense and turning it into this insanity.