In recent years, a bevy of celebrities — from A-list to Z-list — have been busted using language or behaving in a way that goes against typical societal notions of political correctness. And thanks to the Internet, everyone on the planet is the wiser. This week, a photograph of Miley Cyrus slanting her eyes in a mock-Asian gesture hit the web. Fans, haters, and the Asian-American community were on her instantly, demanding an apology. Suffice it to say, if you’re anywhere near the public eye, you have to be smart if you’re going to be offensive. The fact of the matter is, most of us have offensive, crude, off-color moments, and they may even be moments we share with among friends — as Miley probably thought she was doing. But, if busted, we would probably be quick to reassure that the racist or homophobic or sexist joke we just told, does not, in any way, mean that we are racist, homophobic, or sexist in general. And we aren’t! But racism and sexism and homophobia are not so dead — or dead at all — that offensive jokes are anything other than offensive, especially when someone overhears and tells you they’re offended.
Take Mary Rambin. I SO hate to bring her up again, but she keeps throwing up softballs and I’m up to bat. Last night, as Mary was “lifecasting” getting her hair cut, her fellow blog, Julia Allison, posted this exchange.
Mary: I’m not like spiky hair crazy girl.
Julia: You are now!
Mary: I look like a dyke from the back.
Julia: This is true. But a hot one.
So listen, I have used the word “dyke” plenty of times before, among friends. Sure, I could totally pull out the age old “but I have soooo many gay friends and family members” excuse to justify it, but the thing is, I know using that word is offensive to some people, so I would never say it in mixed company and especially not on a public blog allegedly read by “hundreds of thousands of people.” (I also wouldn’t stereotype what “dykes” look like.) And some of those readers said they were offended, I definitely wouldn’t just alter the post so my offending remarks were removed, as if they had never been said. I would acknowledge that I had offended people and that I understood why my remark was offensive, and that putting it on a public blog, as if it was no big deal, was even more offensive because it assumes that everyone else is just as cool with that kind of language. When you make a living providing a service or entertainment to an audience, you have a responsibility to that audience. It does with the territory.
Mary and Miley are not alone. Mel Gibson was caught using anti-Semitic language when pulled over by a police officer a few years ago; when Isiah Washington reportedly called his “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star a derogatory homophobic epithet, the entire blogosphere knew within hours; and Prince Harry has been photographed wearing a Hitler costume and caught on video using a racist word to describe a Arab man and the U.K. papers have been all over him for it, as further evidence that he’s un-King-like. So, celebrities, take note. If you’re going to say or do something that’s offensive to a community of people, know your audience — and if a camera or microphone is anywhere nearby. And most of all, be ready to apologize, because even if you really, really didn’t intend to offend, you did.