Apr 13, 2007
Editorial: Roseanne Simply Misses the Point
Recently, the US comedian Roseanne Barr shared her wisdom with us during a show on KCAA radio in San Bernardino where she is a regular guest host. She has since apoplogized thoroughly for her statements, but there is more to this issue than hastily uttered, unfortutately worded misapprehensions.
"Never once in my 54 years have I ever once heard a gay or lesbian person who’s politically active say one thing about anything that was not about them," Roseanne said. "They don’t care about minimum wage, they don’t care about any other group other than their own self because you know, some people say being gay and lesbian is a totally narcissistic thing and sometimes I wonder." Not enough, Roseanne continued: "I’ve never heard any of them say anything except for 'accept me ‘cause I’m gay.'”
The minimum wage is not the best talking point for this particular criticism. Thinking back, the last time I witnessed a kitchen employee (in any capacity) being paid nothing more than the state-mandated minimum wage was 17 years ago. Now, the Democrats are touting a proposed bill that would raise the minimum to $7.25 an hour. I don't think this increase would affect even the dishwashers where I work. Indeed, if you proposed lowering their pay to this level, you might incite more than a little activism on their part. No doubt this is not the case everywhere. My own experience tells me that this particular bill is a feeble half-measure and is not particularly worthy of enthusiastic support.
Contrary to what Roseanne said about gay people, gays care about a lot of non-gay issues, including the minimum wage: the openly lesbian Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) sponsored a Bill to raise her state’s minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour to "give the working people a long-deserved raise."
Not only does Ms Todd care about the minimum wage, she proposes legislation to do something about it. If you want my support for such a thing though, I'll be wanting something in return. Give me support for a federally mandated (and paid for) shelter for gay teens with 50 beds in every city with a population over 50,000. Give me support for 500 beds in every city with a population over 1,000,000. I'll gladly sign on to your minimum wage issues if you'll sign on to my gay homelessness issues. I'd be happier if the Democrats weren't angling for a pathetic $7.25 – $12 sounds a whole lot more like a living wage to me, and I’m told I’m too parsimonious and that a living wage is really $13 in most of the US. I care more about a living wage than a minimum wage, but give me support for real, brick-and-mortar solutions to the problem of homeless GLBT teens and I’ll be there for your $7.25 – after I get my bricks and my mortar. You want my support for some other issue? Not a problem. I have plenty to ask in trade.
Now Roseanne came up with an apology on her blog, writing that she actually wished to say that "everybody needs to unite right now, and step outside of their own neighborhoods, groups, races and classes to stop Bush's war on our country and our people. I love gays and I hate division. I am just a big idiot with a big mouth sometimes. I will learn to be more careful! Please forgive me, I am so sorry!!!!”
I'd like it better if she focused more on her wrong-headed remarks and less upon the perception that she caused offence. It's not that gays (some of them anyway) were offended that she should apologize for, as if it were our fault for being offended. Oh no... It’s that she was (on this occasion) "a big idiot with a big mouth" (as she so tartly phrases it). I would phrase it differently – her statement was in error and entirely unfounded. This is all that really needs apologizing for.
This she also did, so done is done: apology accepted. She admits she was in error, as she surely was. I should know – I've been howling into the wind for years trying to get gays to do this very thing she claimed they already do – pay more attention to their own needs because the straight people will never supply them (nor ought they). I am quite certain that other people's non-gay problems are at least the top 7 of the top 10 concerns on most gay people's minds.
As for her invitation – no.
Roseanne’s "everybody needs to unite right now, and step outside of their own neighborhoods, groups, races and classes to stop Bush's war on our country and our people" is not what seems to be a suitable course of action for gay people.
This uniting thing always sounds just peachy, just a faabulous, wonderful, marvelous idea. Who couldn't love a battle to stop Bush's war on "our country and our people"? Funny, how it never quite gets around to uniting to be on the side of the gays... never once. Funny, how it never gets around to being about my country and my people. I'm more than welcome to side with the straight people when it comes to what they need, but they just can't be bothered to side with my people on any occasion.
I question the reasonableness and motivations of squawking after what is surely less than 5% of the population. If the 95% is so very incompetent that they require the unity of the 5% to accomplish their aims, there is something very fishy going on. Whatever could I suspect it could be? Imagine that... I have a thought.
I think what’s really going on here is an expressed desire for the homos to shut up about their icky homo issues so that the Democrats can frame the upcoming election around "Democracy and Economic Justice" as opposed to equal rights for third class gay citizens, as opposed to some measure of physical security for third class gay kids, as opposed to the absurd war on the mere mention of our existence in books. They don't want the Republicans to be able to use such things as "wedge issues" because they know that probably half of the Democrats actually side with the Republicans on these points. They don't actually want our support because they cannot possibly believe they need our support. There are not enough of us and there are too many of them for that to even be credible.
What she wants is for us to shut up, and I have no inclination to do so.
Of course, I can be very quiet for quite some time if I get my 500 beds for homeless gay teens in every city with a population over a million. I could get even quieter if I get a separate residential school for 200 gay kids in each congressional district. I can pretty much envision not having anything to complain about at all.