Responding to Hatred with Dignity and Grace
Roseanne Barr's tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and the storm that followed has become breaking news. Jarrett, an Iranian-born African-American with French, Scottish, and Native American ancestry, was referred to by Barr as "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby." Soon after, Barr's popular television show was canceled and Jarrett responded with dignity and grace:
"I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense. The person who is walking down the street minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse, or run across the street, or every black parent I know who has a boy who has to sit down and have a conversation -- the talk -- as we call it. As you say, those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day."
The President of the United States responded to the controversy by not addressing the hateful nature of Barr's tweet, only saying that he himself had not received apologies for what he claimed were horrible statements said about him. While these remarks show the failure of political leadership in fighting racism, Jarrett asked us not to retreat into victimization and called on each of us to exercise our leadership.
"The tone does start at the top, and we like to look up to our president and feel as though he reflects the values of our country," she said. "But I also think every individual citizen has a responsibility too, and it's up to all of us to push back. Our government is only going to be as good as we make it be."
In the fight against extremism we react naturally with anger. However, we are called to answer hatred, whether at home or abroad, not with the angry shout but with the respectful and compassionate offer. It may feel unnatural, but it’s the only way. Great teachers have taught us that we can only meet the forces of hate with the power of love.