The President and The Butler

One conversational trope that I find irritating is the one in which black people say that whenever white people are alone with other white people their conversations are filled with racism. On the level of pure logic, I find the claim exasperating: the very premise of the observation is that no black people are present, so how could they know what is happening?! More important, though, is that, as a white person who frequently talks to other white people, I find our tribe to be far more likely to police each other for perceived racial insensitivities than to issue any. Of course, white people come in all shapes and sizes, my circle of friends and family is probably relatively homogenous, and I wouldn't want to pigeonhole anybody. Still, I haven't found this generalization to be even remotely true. 

Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart

But the emails from Sony Pictures Entertainment--that were hacked and then released publicly--suggest that those African Americans who make this claim might know whites better than I do. In an email exchange that was intended to be private, Amy Pascal--the co-CEO of the company and CEO of the Motion Pictures division--discussed an upcoming breakfast that she was supposed to attend. Barack Obama was scheduled to be a guest and Pascal asked her friend, film producer Scott Rudin, "What should I ask the president at this stupid...breakfast?" The ensuing exchange focused on pictures and performers that the president could be asked about: Twelve Years a Slave, Django UnchainedThe Butler and Think Like a Man. Rudin guessed that the president probably likes Kevin Hart.

The list was intended to be funny because, as Al Sharpton put it on his show last night, "The president is black so he only likes black movies or black comedians." I was really surprised and disheartened to read of those remarks. The president's approval ratings are scraping the floor, his party just got clobbered in the midterms, and he couldn't even pardon a turkey without getting bad press: there are a million subjects to joke about that have something to do with the actual and specific Barack Obama. But in choosing to ignore all of those things in favor of his race, the approach that they took amounted to a casual disregard of his humanity. That hurts me to watch.

Amy Pascal

Amy Pascal

Pascal has issued an apology in which she characterizes the comments as "insensitive and inappropriate" and expresses remorse to "anyone who was offended." This response does not, in my view, reflect an adequate understanding of the degrading nature of her original statements. I think that white people can do better. But the way to show that is to demonstrate that we understand how damaging comments like that can be (even when we think no one is watching). Pascal needs to resign or be fired.