Ahhh, social media. Where people are free to tap their thumbs away and express how they truly feel. Where people are free to mock, verbally abuse, and harass others to their heart’s content, all while hiding behind anonymity. Where the brutal roasting of others can be achieved through GIFs, memes, or as little as 140 characters. Social media is also a platform where people say some of the dumbest things imaginable. Despite all of the bad content on social media sites, there’s one thing that I absolutely love about them: how they successfully expose the hidden racists among us. Many have been rendered unemployed or suspended for racist or offensive social media posts: Justine Sacco, Geris Hilton (real name Gerod Roth), former mayor Beverly Whaling, Pamela Ramsey Taylor, Major League Baseball player Steve Clevenger, and law professor and writer Glenn Reynolds, to name a few. It appears there are some who haven’t quite figured out that the first amendment grants us freedom of speech, not freedom from the consequences of our speech. One would think COVERGIRL spokesperson, James Charles, would have known this prior to tweeting about the possibility of him contracting the Ebola virus while in South Africa, but apparently he didn’t get the memo. As I said, many have been fired or suspended for making social media posts that were racist, offensive, or just plain stupid. However, as a member of a disenfranchised group himself, Charles is benefitting from a different type of privilege, and as a result there have yet to be any consequences for his actions, and there may not be any in the future.
“I can’t believe we’re going to Africa today…omg what if we get Ebola?”—James Charles, COVERGIRL Spokesperson
Discovered on Instagram, and hailed as being the “boy beauty guru who perfected the art of the dramatic lash”, Charles made beauty and fashion headlines in 2016 when he became COVERGIRL’s first male spokesperson. The announcement was met with mixed reactions, as there were some who felt that due to Charles being male he would not be an acceptable representation of the COVERGIRL brand, a brand with a name that features the word “girl.” Those complaints were ignored and considered “ignorant” and “outdated”, as COVERGIRL forged ahead in a politically correct attempt to market the brand as one that was “inclusive”, with a strong belief in equal opportunities and diverse representation. Last week Charles, COVERGIRL’s symbol of diversity, tweeted the statement above. The backlash was so swift it sent COVERGIRL into immediate damage control mode, prompting Charles to begin issuing a series of insincere apologies via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook a mere 23 minutes after posting his initial tweet.
I referred to Charles’ “apologies” as insincere because I believe them to be just that. You see, this isn’t his first time posting something that’s considered racist. Tweets mocking a Black woman’s braided hair, referring to an Indian man as “stupid”, and stating “no Mexican Californians” would be allowed to an event, show Charles has a history of doing so. This was just the first time his behavior made headlines.
For all of COVERGIRL’s claims of being a brand that values inclusion and diversity, their handling of Charles’ antics have been as reprehensible as the tweet that got their spokesperson in hot water. Instead of taking proper action, such as terminating Charles’ contract, COVERGIRL has decided to avoid the situation.
I held off writing about this incident for a few days because I wanted to see how COVERGIRL would handle this. However, it has now been 5 days since this occurred, and COVERGIRL has not terminated Charles’ contract. Instead they’ve opted to tweet the standard disingenuous apology, while regurgitating the same old “their opinions do not represent our brand”, of which I disagree. If Charles’ tweets weren’t a representation “of COVERGIRL’s perspective” he would no longer have a contract with the company. The company dismissed the severity of Charles’ behavior by basically stating: “Yeah, his behavior was inappropriate, but he apologized, so get over it.” The fact that COVERGIRL professes to be “an inclusive brand” that “respect[s] all people and cultures” while continuing to employ a culturally ignorant ambassador with racist views makes the brand’s hypocrisy transparent. Make no mistake, if this incident was reversed and it had been Janelle Monáe or Queen Latifah who had tweeted something that demeaned members of the LGBTQ community, Jewish people, or White people, COVERGIRL would have terminated their contracts without hesitation.
The only difference between Sacco’s and Charles’ tweets is disease, well…that and the fact that Sacco was fired for hers. Both showcase the extreme ignorance and true feelings of the tweets’ senders. Perhaps if Charles had spent a few of his rare moments when he wasn’t in front of a mirror reading books, or just learning about what’s happening in the world outside of his bubble, he would have known that South Africa hasn’t had a patient afflicted with the Ebola virus in nearly 21 years. Will COVERGIRL do the right thing and terminate Charles’ contract? Sadly, it doesn’t look like it.