Three things happen on Monday that I’m still thinking about. First, Ben Mulroney stepped down from his role as host of CTV’s eTalk. Second, everyone from Cosmopolitan to Town & Country identified him as “Jessica Mulroney’s husband” in their pieces about his departure (😂). And third, Lainey Lui trended on Twitter for the entire day.
In case you’re not as obsessed as I am, Mulroney is stepping down because his wife, Jessica, bullied and threatened Sasha Exeter, a Black lifestyle influencer, after the latter posted a general call for her peers with large platforms to speak out against anti-Black racism. (Free tip for celebrities: if someone posts something you don’t like but doesn’t explicitly say it’s about you, don’t act like it’s about you, especially if your reaction is to threaten a Black woman with loss of income and a libel suit.) Mulroney quickly lost all her jobs—her TV show, I Do, Redo, was cancelled; she lost her gig as fashion consultant for Good Morning America; Hudson’s Bay, Kleinfeld Canada and Smash and Tess cut ties with her; she even had to step down from The Shoebox Project, which feels extra-notable because it’s a family charity. Then there was the gossip that her friendship with Meghan Markle was “done.” But no one really knew what was going to happen to Ben’s career.
And now we know: he is voluntarily (or, I’m willing to bet, “voluntarily”) leaving eTalk “to create a space for a new perspective and a new voice.” “It is my hope that the new anchor is Black, Indigenous or a person of colour who can use this important platform to inspire, lead and make change,” he said in a video posted on Twitter and Instagram.
This is not unexpected. It’s not fair to judge people based on the behaviour of their loved ones, but when you work in media and your loved one becomes the news, it’s likely that will impact your employment. In fact, if you’re any kind of public figure, your loved ones’ behaviour can impact your employment—L.A. Galaxy player Aleksandar Katai voluntarily (or maybe “voluntarily”?) left the team after his wife made racist posts mocking George Floyd’s death. He released his own statement disavowing her comments, but it didn’t matter. It’s about image management, right? Big companies are risk-averse; they don’t want to be associated with anything contentious. The only thing that has changed is that racism is now considered contentious.
But based on the racist, sexist and sometimes disturbingly nonsensical tweets that were posted this week, you’d think Mulroney losing this job was not just a surprise, it was a tragedy—and that Lui personally kicked him out of CTV’s building. (For the record, he’s keeping his Your Morning anchor gig, and he’ll still be doing red carpets and big events for eTalk, so the guy is not exactly destitute, okay?) Twitter users referenced the “SJW mob,” accused Lui of trying to “ride the trendy wave of BLM,” told her they hated her “Chinese smugness” and called her “pompous,” “stuck up” and a “#mediawhore.” It’s obvious that these tweets, at least, were not actually about what she wrote in the past; they’re about punishing a woman of colour because something “bad” happened to a white man—and using her mistakes as evidence that anti-racism and social justice are meaningless trends.
That’s not to say that everyone tweeting about Lui this week was wrong. Lots of people were legitimately expressing their anger at her posts, which, among other things, called Janet Jackson ghetto and Jada Pinkett Smith a d-ke. And they’re right: Lui does need to address her racist and homophobic posts.
But it’s also not fair to erase the work she’s done to get better. She’s talked about her problematic posts before and says she has thought through the costs and benefits of deleting them. I disagree that taking down racist and homophobic content would be “erasing history,” and since she didn’t edit those posts to add an apology or disclaimer, I guess you could argue that she didn’t really feel bad about posting them. But she has consistently shown up for Black people, especially in the last month. So, it would be dishonest to act as if Lui’s past is the same as Jessica Mulroney—and by extension Ben Mulroney’s—present.
Here’s the thing: when you’re in the public eye, you have to address your past bad behaviour every time it comes up. As she herself says, that’s what accountability means. (Though I would like her to stop saying she has to “eat her food.” Just say “be accountable”! It’s fine!)
But ongoing behaviour matters too. Actually, it matters more.
I just think it's funny that I've been talking about Tina Fey's racism for almost 20 years. But whatever. Let's get into this racial reckoning for white celebrities.— Rebecca Carroll (@rebel19) June 23, 2020
Contrast the Lainey Gossip situation with Jimmy Kimmel and Tina Fey, who apparently just realized that blackface is racist and problematic. Kimmel apologized for doing blackface impressions of NBA player Karl Malone and other Black people; Fey asked NBC to pull four (FOUR) episodes of 30 Rock from circulation because they contain blackface. And that’s just one small sampling of her racist creative decisions, which also include yellowface and a Native American character who is played by a white woman (Jane Krakowski) on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, as well as so, so many racist stereotypes, particularly about Black people and Asian people. Fey also famously performed a sketch on Saturday Night Live in which she advised people to literally stay home and eat cake instead of protesting white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia—something you have to be incredibly privileged to suggest.
And, as the Daily Beast notes, “Fey has also spent years ignoring, dismissing, and flat-out ridiculing critiques of her writing when it comes to race.” That’s not surprising. After all, in 2015, she opted out of engaging with criticism entirely, saying, “My new goal is not to explain jokes. I feel like we put so much effort into writing and crafting everything, they need to speak for themselves. There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.”
But the fact is, we’ve reached a time where an apology is the bare minimum. I need to see other action before I believe anyone’s truly sorry, or even that they’ve learned anything at all about racism. There are people who are genuinely remorseful and now trying to do better, and people who are apologizing and making statements to save their brands. The only way to tell them apart is to look for a pattern of behaviour. Lui’s pattern of behaviour is telling. The Mulroneys’, Fey’s and Kimmel’s behaviour are, too—just in a very different way.
And Did You Hear About…
This Refinery29 piece about how the “grateful to be here” generation (AKA older millennials) chased success by trying to work around systemic inequality, and so they owe Gen Z an apology. I’m not actually sure this argument actually holds up, though, especially for POC? (Though the author is a WOC, so…)
Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell stepping down from their respective roles on Big Mouth and Central Park. They both played biracial characters, which will be recast with Black or mixed race actors.
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