SNL’s latest cast addition Melissa Villaseñor is in hot water. She recently deleted as many as 2000 tweets, a lot of it with racist content targeting Black people and Asians. So, a whole host of reactions happened, from those calling for her to be fired from SNL to other comedians vouching for her character. This culture skirmish (not even really a war) will last for less than week before Donald Trump, who may very well have the nuclear launch codes by next year, grabs the headlines again.
I have a simple solution to dealing with offensive tweets, racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise: unless they’re issuing threats or spreading slander, forget about it. If someone says that people should get killed for their skin color, gender, or creed, then we have a real issue to be outraged. If folks are spreading lies about a particular person or any group of people, then they definitely should be called to task for their bigotry. We can’t have folks incite, threaten, or slander people in a supposed civil society. Otherwise, idiotic beliefs should be ridiculed and lampooned, but not crucified over in any other context.
Understand, I don’t know if Villaseñor still holds these beliefs or if she really is a good person like all her friends claim her to be. She wouldn’t be the first person to dislike (or have disliked) Black and Asian folks and she certainly won’t be the last. Whether it’s Miss Teen USA or the Daily Show host Trevor Noah, Villaseñor is not the first nor will be the last prominent personality to come under fire for issuing racist tweets long before becoming famous. If anything, it’s ridiculous to spend a lot of effort searching for problematic rhetoric from someone who’s doing low stakes labor such as comedy or entertainment.
In short, I don’t think SNL should fire Villaseñor for her tweets. I don’t think WWE should have fired Hulk Hogan. I don’t believe that ESPN should have fired Curt Schilling (though he should be arrested for theft). While the 1st Amendment does not apply to private companies, for the sake of freedom of speech as an ethic, we shouldn’t be calling for folks to lose their jobs unless they incite violence or their rhetoric confirms discriminatory workplace practices. So far, we have no reason to assume that Villaseñor, Hogan, or Schilling have ruined anyone’s lives for being different.
However, if someone is working or attempting to work for or run the government or head a major private industry, then problematic rhetoric has to invite a certain level of scrutiny. Why? Simple: the stakes are much higher in private industry and public office. We should be concerned with racism if you’re in a position of hiring and firing people. If your police officers are saying racist things, then it’s likely that you’re commencing racist policing practices. And we should definitely be concerned if you’re running for public office because you could easily implement racist policies that could damage entire communities. In other words, it doesn’t matter if some sanitation worker thinks Black people suck. But should their boss believe so, then we have to start asking serious questions.
Now, part of my own interest in defending her comes from my own past and how unenlightened I was. There was a time I said sexist things, made fun of trans-people, and used homophobic slurs. Why? Because like damn near everyone else, I was a kid who was socialized into believing horrendous things about entire groups of people. Absolutely none of us were or are 1000% “woke.” Yet, I was lucky enough to grow and educate myself for the last several years. More importantly, I was not be put in a position of prominence where I could negatively determine the outcomes of women and the LGBT folks.
Not only should we demand folks to be better than their past, we also have to allow them the opportunity to grow. If we can forgive Mark Wahlberg for harassing black kids or attacking an older Vietnamese man when he was a teen, then we can overlook racist tweets. Unless Villaseñor incites racist violence or spreads bigoted slander, then we have to accept whatever apology she offers. So, we shouldn’t attach a sort of Mark of Cain to every person who said something problematic at some point in their lives. Otherwise, we’ll all end up cursed.