Minority Status Does Not Exempt Us From Blind Spots: Just Ask Univision Host Rodner Figueroa
By Paula Beltrán
Lately news folks have been the news: Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart announced he’ll be depriving us of his sexy voice of reason sometime in the foreseeable future; NBC’s Brian Williams is under investigation for allegedly sprinkling some creative nonfiction in his reporting of certain events during the Iraq War; and over at Fox, Bill O’Reilly is nonchalantly denying Tim O’Brien-ing his own war stories.
It’s certainly some kind of moment, and now we get to have it en Español:
The Joan Rivers of celebrity policing in Spanish-language television in the United States, host Rodner Figueroa, was swiftly shown the door this week after saying on air that First Lady Michelle Obama resembles the cast of Planet of the Apes. The comment was made during a segment for Univision’s El Gordo y la Flaca, where he’s been pushing his trademark equal-opportunity comic ruthlessness since 2010, though his work with Univision goes back 17 years.
Here are some figures to paint a picture of the reign he enjoyed up until this week: Coming into the homes of 94 million homes, Univision is the largest Spanish-language network and the fifth largest in the country. He is royalty in Spanish broadcast journalism.
Why should we care?
As these things go, he’s sure to be back on top sooner rather later. Plenty will have tons to say about whether Figueroa should have been fired to begin with, but that isn’t the focus of this piece.
On Thursday, Figueroa released an apology letter in Spanish to the First Lady — published in its entirety by HuffPost-Voces, if you’re interested in getting the story directly from the momentarily-fallen royal’s mouth.
Employing the most formal mode of address in Spanish, he offers an earnest apology to the the First Lady but maintains that his “unpleasant” and “out of line” comment was in response to the work of the imitator that was being discussed in the segment, and not against her.
He asserts that he’s “no racist” and — with all due respect — pulls the “I have X friends” trope, or in his case, an Afro-Latino father. He tells the First Lady that he voted for her husband twice and mentions that he was the first openly gay anchor on Hispanic TV.
His heartfelt apology is indisputable proof that no one is exempt from blind spots, no matter how feminist or inclusive or culturally competent we strive to be most of the time.
Let us be reminded from Figueroa’s personal and professional nightmare that being a member of any one minority group does not exempt us from making naïve, shortsighted, misguided and straight up unfortunate calls of judgment.
We can be romantically involved with, or be children to or parents of people of color, and experience moments of prejudice, and yes, racism. We can have mothers and sisters and wives and daughters — we can be women — and fall into sexist patterns of thought and action.
Identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer, does not excuse us from facing the consequences of experiencing such moments.
Figueroa’s story is all the more baffling to us, and probably himself, because of his journalistic experience, family history and identity as a gay man. He should know better. Period.
Incidentally, Patricia Arquette, too, should know why so many of us were left cringing at the audacity of her absurd demand at the Oscars this year that it’s time for gay and people of color to help win wage-equality for white women. We hope someone shared with her Rutgers Professor Brittney Cooper’s declaration of strike against the ridiculousness of Arquette’s logic.
Figueroa, Arquette, all of us: We should all try to know more. Do better.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com.