Monday, January 27, 2014
Why Arsenio Hall Owes Women an Apology
I never missed Arsenio Hall in the 1990s. The historical perspective alone drove me to the show. Then, it was consistently funny, offered cutting edge musical guests, was socially conscious/sensitive, culturally relevant, the whole package. And in the words of Warren Zevon, his hair was perfect.
The night that LA rioted, his was the only live broadcast and it was stunning. I was a loyal fan, devastated and indignant when he got cancelled; therefore, when I heard he was coming back on the air, I had high expectations and was delighted.
I watched and found that I was underwhelmed, a certain disappointment, but I figured I would let him catch his stride. I would be a supportive fan and be patient.
On December 10, 2013, shortly after the death of Nelson Mandela, I tuned into the monologue. There were two significant news items that he was addressing: one situation in which some people were disturbed by other people who attended a function in Afrocentric clothing and the removal of the mayor of San Diego for repeated and flagrant sexual harassment. In the first case, he spoke passionately about the absurdity of someone feeling threatened by people dressed in traditional attire, the ludicrous offense of the whole notion of fear of people of African descent. I shared his indignation and was pleased that he brought it to my attention, since I do my best to be aware of bigotry and injustice, much less sheer stupidity.
After speaking his peace on that issue, with a round of applause from the audience, he moved on to the ouster of the mayor. The bit was set up as if he was interviewing one of the many women who had come forth to expose this abuse. The woman was young and attractive and Arsenio asked a series of of appropriate questions, although it was becoming evident that she was an actress. Then Arsenio asked how the mayor had acted inappropriately toward her. The response floored me. She said something to the effect of, "Oh no, he never hit on me. And what's up with that?! I am attractive! Why didn't he approach me..." etc.
I was dumbstruck as the audience responded to the applause sign. Arsenio backed out of the bit with his chuckle. I caught my breath and became irate. I immediately turned to Twitter: "@arseniohall After tasteless bit on San Diego ex-mayor, I can't watch. Offenses toward women as insulting as racism. Not suited to bad jokes.."
I received no reply or comment from Arsenio's social media team or anyone who tweets. It has taken me 7 weeks to clear my head to address the offense and I have never watched him since.
I am a woman who has experienced rape. I am among millions. I have also experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. I have witnessed the same of other women and supported those who were devastated by violation, sometimes still trying to find a way to heal decades later. Everyone knows someone who carries such a scar. The statistics bear the truth of violence and insult towards women. And it is no joking matter.
What it takes to bear the shame, much less come forward, requires great courage. Often the blame is placed on the victim. Often the claim is completely dismissed. Every woman who stood up to be counted as one of those violated by that man who denied and discounted his egregious offenses exhibited great strength. And still, it took a long time before the community realized that there was a crucial problem and he was a liar as well as an abuser.
Arsenio: I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, as well as that for your writers, most of whom I assume are men, that you meant no harm. But you cannot express your righteous indignation for the racist foundation of the absurdity of the one situation, then turn around and try to make humor of the plight of abuse towards women. I am going to continue to feel embarrassed for the actress you hired for the bit. She probably needed the money for rent. But you insulted her by implicating her. You dismissed and insulted every woman who was hurt by that man and then chose to come forward, no matter what that would do to them in the public sphere, much less in their private lives.
And you insulted every woman. Your own family. Your friends. Your employees and colleagues. Your audience. More than 50% of the American citizenry who do not benefit from equal rights under the law. And women worldwide who are violated and abused every minute of every day.
When you have the strength of character to apologize to each and every one of us, I will try again. But you have to gather your strength and humility and "man up.."