As the country remains roiled in protests after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man by white police officer Derek Chauvin, social media’s attention is shifting to accusations of racism from high profile names.
In recent days, actress Lea Michele, Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport, Refinery29 founder and editor Christene Barberich and food writer Alison Roman have all faced accusations of racism.
Michele was terrible to a black actress, Rapoport did brownface, Barberich faced a slew of criticism under the #BlackatR29 hashtag on Twitter about the way black writers and editors were treated on her site.
But Roman’s part in the story is the most micro of all the aggressions.
On Monday, a picture surfaced of Roman in costume, from many years ago. Yashar Ali, contributor to New York magazine, had posted the shot, pulled from Roman’s MySpace page, and accused Roman of dressing up as a ‘chola’.
Before white people could even head to google to find out what ‘chola’ means (a derogatory term used in Latin America for ‘a woman of indigenous or partly indigenous ancestry’), Roman denied the accusation yet issued an apology anyway. Roman claims she was dressed as Amy Winehouse but noted her costume ‘reads as culturally insensitive’.
There’s some background to the Ali and Roman clash. Just recently Roman had found herself embroiled in a controversy after criticizing Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo for deftly monetizing their brands. Ali is friends with Teigen. That Teigen and Kondo are both non-white celebrities got Roman the initial accusation of racism. The ‘Chola’ picture was just more evidence.
The frenzy of accusations on social media in the last few days is reminiscent of the beginning of the #MeToo movement. In October 2017, the beginning of the movement featured violent and horrific violations. Harvey Weinstein had systematically sexually assaulted women for decades and piece after piece detailed his disgusting and brutal behavior. From there, they fell like dominoes. Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, mass firings at Uber corporate, USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, journalists, restaurateurs, Kevin Spacey and so on. The masses cheered at the takedowns of these monsters.
But by January 2018 the stories had slowed to a trickle. The stories that did continue to emerge didn’t sound like the ones at the beginning. We’d learn about a ‘Shitty Media Men’ list. The anonymous list contained, with no context, serious accusations like ‘attempted rape’ but also ‘inappropriate communication’.
Also in January, Aziz Ansari was accused on the babe.net website of…well, no one was really sure. A woman who came over and fooled around with Ansari wrote a piece accusing him of not being very good at it and not caring that she didn’t seem to enjoy it. She didn’t, however, leave and kept giving him fresh attempts at failure.
Roman and Ansari are mirror images from different scandals during high intensity times. Both are reliable liberals who, in other circumstances might be first to grab a pitchfork and join the mob. That the mob came for them is their bad luck.
Both movements were triggered by failures in the justice system to adequately address heinous acts. But once justice was passed on to Twitter, mistakes were inevitable and vengeance was the point.
The serious charges of racism, in particular institutional racism, are harder to combat than microaggressions like a bad Halloween costume and, online, easier is better. The joy of the Twitter pile-on is obvious.
In the case of #MeToo and in our current moment, there’s no slowing down to examine facts or hear any defense from the accused. The feeling of déjà vu is strong. 2020 is no time for learning lessons.