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The Passion of Samantha Bee, Or Why the C-Word Isn't the Problem

On Thursday morning I woke up to a raging sea of cunts—the last thing I assume I’ll witness the moment I check social media, no matter how nefarious the internet may be. At the center of the storm was Samantha Bee and Ivanka Trump, an unlikely pair bound together by a notorious slight that evoked commentary from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, political talking heads, and even the president himself.

The night before, Bee described Ivanka as a “feckless cunt” on her TBS show Full Frontal With Samantha Bee—a bold response to Ivanka’s seemingly oblivious choice to post a picture of her holding her son on the very same day national headlines highlighted the Trump administration’s decision to separate immigrant children from their families. The reaction to Bee’s comment was swift and relentless, highlighted by President Donald Trump’s response via Twitter Friday morning: “Why aren’t they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard but that’s O.K., we are winning, and will be doing so for a long time to come!”

The double standard, of course, referred to the week’s earlier leading news story: Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet about former-Barack Obama aide, Valerie Jarrett. In a now-deleted tweet, Barr claimed Jarrett was the byproduct of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes—a remark that ultimately resulted in the cancellation of Barr’s ratings-gold television show, Roseanne. On Tuesday conservatives and Roseanne-fans were yelling “free speech!” and “First Amendment rights!” Two days later, they were calling for TBS to cancel Bee’s show and pontificating on the utter vileness of the dreaded “C-word.”

But Bee using the word “cunt’ isn’t the problem. We are. As a country we elected someone who campaigned on a platform built with planks of sexism, racism and xenophobia to the highest office in the land, yet we want to wax poetic about “decency” and “appropriateness” and “morality.” We have allowed a man who calls women dogs and fat pigs—even saying some weren’t attractive enough for him to sexually assault—to take to Twitter and discuss how “wrong” it is for a comedian to curse. And by debating whether or not Bee’s and Barr’s remarks are even slightly similar—or if their respective punishments fit their crimes—we’re erasing racism the moment we see it; claiming “fairness” while failing to see the systemic inequality that’s right in front of our noses.
Attempting to equate a bad word to a racial slur is lazy whataboutism parading around as equality.
The Trump administration took the time to weigh in on “cuntgate,” but remained silent after the release of a Harvard study, published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, that estimated 4,645 Puerto Ricans died as a direct result of Hurricane Maria and its immediate aftermath. A third of the fatalities, according to the study, “were reported by household members as being caused by delayed or prevented access to medical care.” FEMA approved only $6.2 million for Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico, according to POLITICO, compared to $141.8 million in individual assistance to Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston, Texas. “FEMA provided 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water and over 20,000 tarps to Houston; but in the same period, it delivered just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water and roughly 5,000 tarps to Puerto Rico.”

The Trump administration is directly responsible for hundreds of immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents at the border, according to The New York Times. A new policy, championed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions ramps up a “zero tolerance” approach meant to “deter new migrants with the threat of jail sentences and separating immigrant children from their parents”. Said Sessions, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

The president has also made it a mission of his administration to defund Planned Parenthood and attack reproductive rights across the country, most recently by moving to reinstate the domestic gag rule—a decision that would pull federal funds from health clinics that provide or discuss abortions. Such a move would disproportionately impact women of color. Yet the administration does nothing to curtail the rising rate of maternal mortality among black women, nor the rising infant mortality rates among black babies. According to The New York Times, black infants are more than twice as likely to die than white infants, and according to NPR, black mothers die in childbirth at three times the rate of white mothers. States with the highest number of abortion restrictions tend to have the worst women and children’s health outcomes, according to a 2017 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health, but this administration continues to pass harmful anti-abortion legislation.

We’ve normalized rhetoric that makes it easy for too many of us to equate a white woman calling a black woman an ape, to a woman calling another woman a cunt—as if they’re at all the same. In the process of doing that, we’ve diminished racism to the point that its devastating effect is a mere blip in the news cycle. But make no mistake: Attempting to equate a bad word to a racial slur is lazy whataboutism parading around as equality. And all the while, the actual effects of systemic racism lay just beneath the surface; untouched, barely acknowledged and left to fester.


Danielle Campoamor
Danielle Campoamor
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