Celebrity

We *Should* Be Holding Lea Michele and Karlie Kloss Accountable

BIPOC are never given a "pass" from experiencing racism, so why should people who perpetuate it be exempt?

It’s been a tough few months for racist celebs and their publicists. Just weeks after both Alison Roman and Lana Del Rey were called out on social media for their comments about women of colour in their respective industries, another former fave is in the limelight for deplorable behaviour. On June 1, actor Samantha Ware slammed Lea Michele on Twitter after the former Glee star tweeted in support of Black Lives Matter and against the death of Minnesota man George Floyd. Floyd was murdered by four police officers during his May 25 arrest after one officer pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck, suffocating him until he died. Floyd’s death, along with the murder and deaths of several more Black people have prompted a massive movement against police brutality across the world.

“George Floyd did not deserve this. This was not an isolated incident and it must end. #BlackLivesMatter,” Michele tweeted on May 29. In response, Ware, who starred alongside Michele in the sixth season of Glee, was not having it, tweeting about her own experience working with Michele, and the star’s treatment of her as a Black woman. “LMAO REMEMBER WHEN YOU MADE MY FIRST TELEVISION GIG A LIVING HELL?!?!,” Ware tweeted. “CAUSE ILL NEVER FORGET. I BELIEVE YOU TOLD EVERYONE THAT IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY YOU WOULD “SHIT IN MY WIG!” AMONGST OTHER TRAUMATIC MICROAGRESSIONS THAT MADE ME QUESTION A CAREER IN HOLLYWOOD.”

Shortly after Ware tweeted, other former Glee cast members shared their own experiences on set with Michele with actor Dabier Snell, who appeared in one episode of the Fox series in 2014, tweeting: “Girl you wouldn’t let me sit at the table with the other cast member cause “I didn’t belong there” Fuck you Lea.”

But probably the most telling comment came from Glee series regular Amber Riley, who starred alongside Michele on the show throughout its entire six-season run. While Riley didn’t *say* anything per se, her use of GIFs in response to Ware’s tweets was pretty frickin’ telling:

Just two days later, writer Tavi Gevinson called out model Karlie Kloss for her double standard and virtue signalling online, after the model posted an excerpt on ending racism from author Cleo Wade. (ICYMI, Kloss is married to Josh Kushner, who happens to be the brother of Jared Kushner and thus brother-in-law of Ivanka Trump).

“Karlie, give it a rest. You have a lot of nerve to make a show of championing girls’ coding and your family in public (lame @ you ignoring ivanka on social media; she still went to your wedding),” Gevinson commented. “I can’t believe you’re not more embarrassed not just by them but YOUR decision to only publicly disown their politics in polite ways so you can have it both ways. I don’t know what kind of conversations you have behind the scenes (besides when Jared asked your dad to solicit solutions to a global pandemic in a Facebook group back in March) but like…….what am I looking at. This is a f–king joke.” ICYMI, Kloss has repeatedly stayed mum on her relationship with the Trumps/Kushners, and has remained pretty passive when it comes to politics, claiming to be liberal but refusing to comment or call out the super conservative, and sometimes openly racist, extended family she married into.

After issuing an apology that left *a lot* to be desired on June 3, Michele was seemingly forgiven by many of her followers, several of whom commented that because Michele is pregnant, people shouldn’t be dragging her for her past behaviour. And sorry to any diehard Gleeks, but we’d have to disagree. People 100% should be coming for Michele (and even Kloss!) and holding them accountable, because letting their actions and comments slide is part of what’s gotten us into the situation we’re in now.

Let’s be clear, Lea Michele’s behaviour and comments were racist

It’s important to note that Michele’s bad, diva-ish behaviour wasn’t *just* aimed at her Black co-stars. Several non-Black men and women shared their own negative experiences with the singer, whether it was on set for TV or onstage in Spring Awakening. Celebs like Abigail Breslin, who starred alongside Michele in Scream Queens, liked a tweet that said: “not everyone agreeing that something felt off about Lea Michele…were have y’all been i’ve BEEN saying this FOR YEAR??? i thought i was alone.”

It sounds like Michele is an inconsiderate and difficult person to work with in general. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that Michele’s comments and treatments of her Black co-stars was inherently racist. Although Michele made sure to point out the fact that she doesn’t *think* she’s racist in her June 3 apology, writing, “I have never judged others by their background or the color of their skin,” thinking you’re not racist does not mean you can’t be guilty of perpetuating racist behaviour.

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The fact remains that a large majority of the people who have spoken out so far on social media are Michele’s Black co-stars, and telling Black co-workers that you’re going to “shit in their wig” or that they “don’t belong” in a certain space feels *extremely* targeted and specific, and continues a long history of prohibiting Black bodies in certain spaces.

And just because Lea Michele is pregnant now doesn’t mean she gets a pass for past racist behaviour

And the thing is, Michele possibly didn’t even realize at the time that what she was saying and the ways in which she was acting were racist—which is exactly the point. As Ware pointed out in her tweet, Michele’s comments were a perfect example of microagressions. As writer 

comments, questions or actions that have to do with a person’s membership in a discriminated, marginalized or often subject to stereotype group. And, as Desmond-Harris wrote for Vox, “a key part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen casually, frequently, and often without any harm intended, in everyday life.” This means they could come across in “jokes” or a “compliment,” but contain a hidden insult about a particular group; usually the one the target is a member of. Think, for example, of instances such as avoiding eye contact with someone on the street or or making assumptions about someone’s intelligence or mental state because of their race.

Unlike macroaggressions, which occur at the systems level, microaggresions are much more interpersonal. But that doesn’t make them any less harmful. In his 2019 book How to Be an Antiracist, author Ibram X. Kendi insists that microaggressions are actually “racial abuse” and should be called as such. And according to a 2017 study by USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism, the affect of microaggressions has been described as “death by a thousand cuts,” and can negatively impact an individuals mental and physical health.

Talking to USA Today for a February 2018 article on microagrressions, Roberto Montenegro, a chief fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Seattle Children’s Hospital who has studied the biological effects of discrimination, said: “A lot of people hear ‘microaggressions’ and they think, ‘Oh, it’s just the little things that hurt people’s feelings. It isn’t about having your feelings hurt. It’s about how being repeatedly dismissed and alienated and insulted and invalidated reinforces the differences in power and privilege, and how this perpetuates racism and discrimination.”

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And when it comes to racial microaggressions, this bias can be implicit and sometimes undetectable to the person enacting it. Which is why it’s so imperative that people call out these actions, comments and jokes when they hear and see them. Because if they don’t get called out, they become internalized and accepted as a norm. Which contributes to systemic power imbalance.

While many of Michele’s behaviours and comments may have taken place years ago, the fact that she’s pregnant in 2020 doesn’t excuse her comments and actions in the years prior. Because *news flash* being pregnant doesn’t automatically absolve you of all past wrongdoing and doesn’t immediately make you a better person. Giving people who have harmed others a pass because they’re “fragile” is exactly the reason racism is so prevalent in society—and so overlooked as an IRL issue. Because we’re too willing to let people, and specifically white women, off the hook. BIPOC are never given a “pass” from experiencing racism—so why should those who perpetuate it be exempt from being held accountable?

Also, let’s seriously ask ourselves: If it was a pregnant Black celeb who was being called out for equally hideous comments, do you think people would even think twice about dragging her for past misdeeds? (*ahem* Meghan Markle *ahem*) The answer is no. And that’s a problem.

And these passive aggressive celebrity apologies won’t cut it anymore

But Michele isn’t alone in her inability to face racism—and her personal perpetuation of it—head on. If quarantine has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing celebs are worse at than owning up to their implicit biases in PR statements. Littered throughout Michele’s apology was the word “perceived,” and the idea that the individuals harmed only “perceived” Michele’s actions in a harmful or racist way (something that Ware called out in a follow-up to Michele’s apology).

Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure there’s only one way to “perceive” having someone say that they would “shit in [your] wig.” Michele’s apology lacked any actual ownership over her actions, instead putting the blame on those around her for seemingly misconstruing her comments and behaviour. At the heart of this seems to be a refusal to own up to racist behaviours (even the covert kind) for fear that doing so would label them as unequivocally racist. As two of Michele’s former Glee co-stars, Heather Morris and Amber Riley, said in separate statements, they’re not calling Michele racist—and neither are we—but we have to acknowledge that her comments and behaviours are racial microaggressions that perpetuate racism. Having been raised in a society that makes these microaggressions OK and systemically values non-Black lives over Black lives, Michele needs to own where her bias comes from—and then work to dismantle it.

Which is exactly what her statement *doesn’t* do.

And neither does Kloss’s behaviour. While the model wasn’t being called out for racial microaggressions in the same way Michele was, her passivity when it comes to publicly challenging her family and their views whilst simultaneously trying to publicly champion minority groups (which TBH, the Trumps are pretty much in opposition to), doesn’t fly anymore. Because you can’t have it both ways.

And neither will gaslighting those who criticize you

Also, can we please stop gaslighting minority groups for their very valid criticisms of individuals and their behaviour?

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racial gaslighting 101 〰️ Gaslighting is when someone manipulates information in such a way as to make a victim question their own experience, memory or reality. Folks who gaslight often do this to avoid having to take accountability or avoid having to feel guilty for the fact that they benefit from something that harms you. When it comes to understanding, navigating and surviving racism, we’ve had to deal with this our entire lives. We know it when we see it. Folks who have never experienced racism and do not care to unlearn their toxic conditioning will attempt to exhaust you. Exhaust you so you silence yourself. Exhaust you so you doubt yourself. Exhaust you so you normalize the treatment. Stay the course. Trust yourself. People don’t get to try to make rebuttals to your lived experience with abuse. This ain’t debate club.

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While Michele’s apology left a lot to be desired, chief among them was the fact that she seemingly brought in her pregnancy as a way to subtly victimize herself, pulling “the pregnancy card” as many on Twitter so rightfully called it. And she wasn’t alone. Also called out this week for performative activism was journalist Derek Blasberg, who posted images of himself at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York.

ICYMI, Blasberg is BFFs with Kloss, as well as  Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (and even attended President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration); something Tavi Gevinson once again alluded to, commenting under Blasberg’s post: “Talk to your neo facist friends.”

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For his part, Blasberg didn’t thoughtfully engage with Gevinson, nor did he own up to the fact that he hangs out with problematic people, thus making his appearance at a BLM protest seem performative. No. Blasberg decided to turn the tables on Gevinson, instead chastising her for not focusing her activism on “productive, constructive outreach,” and calling her comment “trolling.” Which, for the record, it was not.

Like Michele, by implying that people like Gevinson—and the many people who responded to Michele’s victim-blaming apology—are being divisive and unproductive for calling out contradictory behaviour, Blasberg is attempting to mute a valid criticism, further diluting accountability for his actions.

Which is honestly the last thing we need right now.