No one was laughing when Jess Hilarious took to Twitter to say that she felt “threatened” by the presence of four Sikh men on a flight. She’s not the first comedian to mess up this bad in public, but it remains to be seen whether she’s going to be granted the same grace her male contemporaries get.
As soon as Jess put that mess on social media, her critics swooped in to rip her career to shreds via Cancel Culture. At first, Jess responded by doubling down on her ignorance and dismissed all criticism of her response to the presence of the Sikhs on her flight. She got defensive. “Don’t play with me,” she said in an Instagram story. “If I’m scared, I’m scared. F*ck y’all.” The next day, she made a statement on video, tearfully apologizing for what she did.
What Jess said about those men was wrong. Flat-out wrong. It was xenophobic and illogical; her misplaced fear of Muslims was triggered by visual cues that don’t even line up with that faith. She saw brown men in religious garb and made an incorrect assumption. She bought into a negative stereotype, which wrongfully happens to Black people all over the world every day. This is not a new concept for her. Although she has a history of saying problematic things, she fully acknowledges what she did was wrong and why it was wrong. She’s apologized to the appropriate people. She also took steps to make amends to the communities that she hurt. Her efforts to atone seem sincere. So the question now is if she is truly sorry for what she said, how are we going to respond? One thing I have noticed is that we tend to be a little more forgiving of male comedians than female ones. Are we going to be as forgiving of Jess as we would her male contemporaries?
It would be hard to compare Jess to Mo’nique in this instance. Mo has been going through it ever since she called for the Black Community to boycott Netflix when execs tried to underpay her. She did that for economic reasons and she still hasn’t really apologized for taking that stance. Mo knows her worth and she wasn’t going to let Netflix shortchange her. She may have gone about the wrong way, but it’s hardly on the level of racial profiling. Besides, we really haven’t forgiven her–nor are we demonstrably supporting her in way that would suggest we’re buying into her brand the way once did. What Jess did was more along the lines of things we’ve seen from Kevin Hart and even Dave Chappelle. Like Jess, both men came under fire for offensive comments; theirs happened to be of the misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic variety.
Kevin, who lost a huge gig hosting the Oscars behind old homophobic Tweets, did not do a great job of rectifying the situation. At first, he refused to apologize, then he said he already had apologized, and then he stepped down from the hosting gig. He only actually apologized once Ellen co-signed him and gave him her stamp of approval (as if she speaks for all of the LGBTQ+ community). His friends and fans fell all over themselves to convince the Academy to reinstate him as host. That campaign didn’t work, but he was pulling in support from everywhere. Dave didn’t really take his transphobic comments that seriously and he didn’t apologize for them either. However, he went on to enjoy some of Netflix’s highest ratings. Because of who they are, and our love for their work, neither of these men have sustained any lasting damage to their careers.
Now that Jess is in the hot seat for having broadcast some incredibly offensive thoughts, she’s facing the same dilemma that both Kevin and Dave have. I’m just curious to see whether we give her the opportunities for redemption or the space for forgiveness that we give Black male celebrities who mess up. Are we going to be as quick to forgive her as we did Kevin and Dave–if we do at all? Should we, as the public, decide to be benevolent? How much will she need to do to get back in good standing?
We didn’t require that much of Kevin or Dave to get back on the public’s good side, and they delivered the bare minimum. The difference with Jess is that she realized the full weight of what she said and corrected herself far more quickly than either of these men. Although her co-stars and contemporaries are supporting her (check out the latest Righteous and Ratchet for KevOnStage’s take), it’s unclear how her fan base and the public will respond going forward. It also remains to be seen whether this incident will have any lasting effects on her career and other future opportunities. That’s only something we’ll find out with time. For now, it’s not looking good for Jess because her Twitter mentions and comments are still in shambles.