An Oklahoma City television anchor found herself under fire when the ruthless internet mob labeled what she intended to be a playful on-air remark as openly “racist” and demanded she be fired.
Alex Housden choked back tears during a live segment on KOCO-TV as she apologized to colleague Jason Hackett, the recipient of the comment.
The incident that sparked the controversy started innocently enough. The two were covering a lighthearted piece on the local zoo’s Instagram feed, which featured images of a gorilla named Fin.
The exchange went as follows:
Housden reported, “This is Fin. … He’s a resident of the Oklahoma City Zoo, and this week the zoo’s ape caretaker took over their Instagram, and we are all loving that they did. Now as you can see, Fin was fascinated by the camera.”
“Definitely ready for his close-up,” Hackett replied.
“[He] kinda looks like you,” Housden said as the transition graphics signaled the end of the segment.
“Kinda does, actually, yeah,” Hackett replied.
You can watch the exchange below.
The PC mob quickly grabbed its pitchforks and torches.
— Ժҽղíտҽ ɾҽղҽҽ (@deniserenee24) August 27, 2019
Can I get some SUPPORT! PLEASE DEMAND ALEX HOUSDEN IS FIRED FOR SAYING COLLEAGUE JASON HACKETT LOOKS LIKE A GORILLA, ON THE KOCO CHANNEL 5 NEWS. This occurred on August 22nd, 2019. Call (405)478-3000, and DEMAND THAT SHE BE TERMINATED! THANK YOU! pic.twitter.com/P8fzckhHFh
— Yvette Thomas (@YvetteT14439725) August 26, 2019
Housden went on air with Hackett and gave a tearful and, by all appearances, sincere apology for her comment to him and “our entire community.”
“I want you to know I understand how much I hurt you out there,” she said, turning to her co-anchor, “and how much I hurt you. I love you so much and you have been one of my best friends for the past year and a half. And I would never do anything on purpose to hurt you.”
Hackett, to his credit, forgave her, but he couldn’t resist assuring the audience that what Housden had said was wrong.
It’s important to note that her comment wasn’t said with malice. It was tin-eared. It was poorly thought out. It was a massive blunder. But it wasn’t ill-intentioned.
Anyone with a modicum of common sense (or at least one friend) can instantly tell that the context was one friend playfully nudging another. Housden was kidding Hackett, not trying to racially insult him on live TV (which would be beyond idiotic).
Comparing guys to apes and monkeys is pretty common, and it’s certainly not prima facie racist. Marge did it to Homer on “The Simpsons.” Mickey did it to Kramer on “Seinfeld.” “Futurama did it to Fry and Leela.” Tim Allen did it to himself with his ape-like grunts on “Home Improvement.” And The Guardian did it to Donald Trump. It’s a common trope, and it’s not exclusive to any single race.
Now that’s not to say that it hasn’t been used disproportionately against black people. The comparison of African-Americans to apes because of skin color goes back a long time and is about as insulting and rhetorically wretched as it gets. But those comparisons are so obviously meant to dehumanize and offend. No reasonable person would compare that behavior to what Housden did.
So what should have happened here? First, we need to all acknowledge that 1) innocently kidding someone isn’t wrong (there’s a difference between wrong and foolish); 2) innocently kidding someone while knowing that you could offend him isn’t a good idea; and 3) trying to insult someone racially (whether hiding behind the deniability of humor or not) is disgusting.
If you’re confused about the difference between the first two above and the third, see this video of No. 3 in action. It captures the wretchedness of racism pretty well.
WARNING: The following video contains graphic language that some viewers will find offensive.
This woman is really something else. pic.twitter.com/DxIA4o8an2
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) August 26, 2019
Housden’s case almost certainly falls under the first category. Virtually no one is stupid enough to consider a joke on TV, realize it risks offending an entire group of people and then tell it. And it’s also clear that Housden never wanted to insult Hackett.
Second, Housden should have caught herself before she made the comment. Sadly, there is no innocence anymore, and if you’re going to talk to thousands of people on live TV, you’d better be at the top of your game all the time when it comes to measuring your words. Since Housden didn’t measure her words perfectly, she found herself having to apologize, which is the right thing to do (though the scale was ridiculously large for such a small mistake) since Hackett indicated he was hurt by what she said.
Third, Hackett should have been more magnanimous in his response to her apology. He seemingly knew her heart, but he truckled to the PC mob too, talking about the hurtfulness of stereotypes. But let’s not be too hard on Hackett either: He deserves a great deal of credit for trying to comfort the nearly sobbing Housden.
We’re now living in a world where virtually anything can be an insult or an attack. Misspeaking can get you called a racist. Responding in a way an employee of the opposite sex doesn’t like can land you in the middle of a sexual harassment claim. Displaying a religious item publicly can be construed as creating a hostile work environment.
We can’t continue on like this. One mark of civility (and maturity) is graciousness — giving people the benefit of the doubt, being kind when they’ve done something that doesn’t deserve kindness, and quickly forgiving them when they stumble.
Without that, we will spend our lives offending and being offended because, let’s be honest, people do dumb stuff all day, every day. Intentionally bad behavior needs to be condemned. But innocent mistakes don’t deserve condemnation. They deserve grace. To paraphrase Hackett, we have to find a way to replace offense with love.
The human condition doesn’t necessarily lend itself to grace and love, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acquire those traits. There’s a collection of literature thousands of years old that deals with how humans can know and demonstrate divine love, mercy and grace.
Maybe if we all read it more, starting in public schools, things would get a little better.
The Western Journal has requested comments from both Hackett and Housden but has not yet received a response. We will update this article if and when we do.
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