Donald Trump’s viciously racist remarks regarding Latinos should be condemned with all the ardent fury decent humans can collectively muster. But Kelly Osbourne only exemplified white condescension toward the Latino immigrant community when she referred to them as toilet-scrubbers.
Her remarks, vehemently expressed on Tuesday’s episode of The View, are directed at Mr. Trump who, again, is indeed a racist blend of blood clot and booger. But Osbourne’s retort illuminates her own—seemingly unself-conscious—racially distorted views.
Cheekily, Osbourne asks, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilets, Donald Trump?”
Damn. Kelly, you really ought not to have said that. But you did, so let’s break it down.
It’s true that marginalized peoples—like undocumented immigrants—often accept conditions of labor that most of us would not choose for ourselves. But the egregiously blinkered conception of Latinos as, above all else, the people we hire to clean our shit, implies two things. First, it indicates that our burgeoning immigrant population, documented or not, bears an indelible mark of social inferiority. We cannot imagine them as homeowners, only as the those who maintain and tidy them. As a white woman born into considerable wealth, Osbourne very well may have grown up relying on Latino labor in the ways she suggests Trump does.
Osbourne’s comment also fortifies the stratified perception of labor prevailing in white America. When we refer to certain occupations not simply as jobs, but as warnings—do you really want to scrub your own poopy toilet?—we assign those who hold those jobs to a lower rung on the social totem pole.
It’s clear that Osbourne wanted to emphasize the importance of the Latino immigrant population, but her comment stresses a wrong-headed conception of their value. Immigrants are not valuable because they perform the tasks we find distasteful; they’re valuable because they are people (really, this is kindergarten material). And they are people who have every right to live here.
Osbourne has posted a feeble apology to her Facebook page, explaining, “I will take responsibility for my poor choice of words but I will not apologize for being a racist as I am NOT.” And while she “[hopes] that this situation will open up a conversation about immigration and the Latin community as a whole, “ she concludes defiantly: “By the way I clean my own fucking toilets.” Hell of an undercut, Kelly—obviously all this upset is about you and your housekeeping regimen.
It should not be too much to ask that white people, especially those of us with any sort of platform, acknowledge our prejudice when it has manifested itself. And one would hope that Osbourne would be more attune to evidence of racial prejudice. She indignantly denied suggesting that Zendaya’s Academy Award dreadlocks smelled like weed, taking to Twitter in an all-caps disavowal of racism.
And that’s fine. But what is not fine—what is disturbing—is the prevailing excuse of word choice, the excuse that Osbourne, like so many, relied on today. As if words were entities that exist apart from the bodies that utter them, detached from our most fundamental selves and beliefs.
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