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Good Morning America Host Amy Robach's Offensive Remark
I've always enjoyed Amy Robach on Good Morning America and got into following her a little more closely when she more or less stumbled on her breast cancer diagnosis, thanks to a piece she did on the show.
Learning that she actually used the term "colored people" while reporting about diversity in Hollywood shocked me. She always struck me as a sensitive reporter who was very aware of her topic and her audience, so I briefly wondered if I'd suddenly entered a time warp when I got up this morning.
On August 22, 2016, Robach, according to Complex, was discussing the recent casting of Zendaya in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and how rumors that Zendaya had been tapped to take on the role of Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's love interest, have sparked something of an outcry.
"We all know Hollywood has received recent and quite a bit of criticism for casting white actors in what one might assume should be a role reserved for colored people," Robach said. "Could this potentially be the industry trying to right itself?"
Say what now?
Racial Slur or Slip of the Tongue?
Robach quickly apologized, calling the on-air remark a "mistake":
"This morning during a segment about Hollywood casting, I mistakenly said 'colored people' instead of 'people of color.' I sincerely apologize. It was a mistake and is not at all a reflection of how I feel or speak in my everyday life."
Using terminology like "colored people" can't simply be dismissed as a slip of the tongue or an accident. This is a term that is a distinct throwback to the time where we had separate drinking fountains for different races, rather than viewing everyone as the same.
Usually, Robach is a thoughtful, sensitive reporter who has shed light on a range of topics, most particularly breast cancer, which hit close to home for her, as was widely publicized. For her to even consider using the term "colored people" in a news piece is shocking, and whether or not she was choosing the term as a way to highlight Hollywood's apparent whitewashing doesn't matter. She could have and should have avoided the term.
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Linguistics prof John McWhorter even questioned whether the term "colored people" could be considered a racial slur in a CNN article. He acknowledged, rightfully so, that for a white person to come out with an antiquated term such as that might be considered racist, but also suggested that Robach's phrasing was simply a slip of the tongue.
Robach herself also acknowledged that what she had meant to say was "people of color." Such mistakes occur in everyday speech on an almost regular basis, and McWhorter suggests that perhaps all Robach should have to do at this point is apologize, which is exactly what she did.
What we need to do is move past racist terms such as "colored people," and whether Robach meant any sort of racist comment is actually somewhat irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is that phrasing like that even still exists.
While it is important to acknowledge Robach's mistake, it's also equally important to acknowledge that work still needs to be done to take us beyond the racist ideologies that once dominated North America—and still do in various pockets throughout the world.
Is Amy Robach Racist? Probably Not
Here's the thing, folks—all of us have made mistakes, particularly on a linguistic level. Amy Robach is a great reporter, and she continues to offer insight into very human issues and ideas. It is very tempting to vilify her on multiple levels because of what even a linguist has said is a slip of the tongue, but what can be gained?
A spread of hate?
Supposed proof that even the media is racist?
The thing is, we tend to forget in this very immediate sort of society that we can start blaming people for everything the very second it hits social media, or in this case, real media. People make mistakes, as we often remind our children, and while there is significant evidence in the world about racism, a simple slip of the tongue by a well-meaning news reporter should not lead to her immediate demonization.
What it should lead to is a discussion with our kids about thinking about how we're saying things before we say them—how they sound in our heads does not mean the same as how things actually sound when they come out of our mouths. We have to take the time to consider that as we begin to speak, particularly when we have such an open forum as the media.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.