WaPo's Robin Givhan Sees Racism, Sexism in Criticism of Wanda Sykes' Nastiness

Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan used her Sunday column to find racism in the exception taken to Wanda Sykes describing Rush Limbaugh as the 20th terrorist on 9-11 and hoping his kidneys fail. Givhan never actually detailed those outbreaks of meanness. She merely suggested that a white guy like Stephen Colbert could get away with it, but not a black woman:

Comedian Wanda Sykes has been taken to the woodshed because her humor at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner turned pointed. Words alone didn't cause all that aggravation. A lot of it had to do with the person doing the talking. And how she looks.

Givhan ended by lecturing Washington that it should have never expected Sykes to be demure and not sassy. (This is a bit stilted, since anyone who knows Sykes knows she’s sassy – including the liberal White House correspondents who selected her, like AP’s Jennifer Loven, who said Sykes was selected for her "fresh style and engaging stage presence.") Givhan complained:

And in the sober light of the workday, comedian Wanda Sykes was assailed for taking aim at Rush Limbaugh in her monologue at the WHCA dinner. Suddenly, media folks forgot the meaning of hyperbole. Then they started debating Sykes's jokes, and the president's chuckling over them.

If I stood up at a big Washington dinner and said I hoped Robin Givhan’s kidneys failed, I doubt she would laugh along at the hyperbole. Or laugh if she was described as a 9/11 terrorist. She continued:

But in the midst of all the hand-wringing, one couldn't shake a certain subtext. Sykes, a petite black woman with a sassy mouth, had gotten pointed, political and a tad bit angry. It was as if everyone expected her to leave her opinions with the Secret Service and just dish out jovial, but mush-mouthed, commentary about being beleaguered and put-upon. Sykes is known for her sharp tongue. She's more Bill Maher than Bill Cosby. But there's an assumption that white male comics will speak their mind and risk being offensive to get the laugh. (When Stephen Colbert performed two years ago, the press knew he'd offend some in the audience, they just didn't realize it would be them.) If Maher had made the same comments, the audience probably would have been thankful that he didn't say anything really appalling. With Sykes, it was more like: Shame on her. Everyone knows that appearances can be deceiving, but sometimes they can leave you speechless.

Givhan is supposedly writing about clothes, but the only way this described fashion is her discussion of how appearances can clash with what a person says. She not only came to the defense of Elizabeth Edwards, who had "suffered an inordinate amount of tsk-tsking" for not caring about Rielle Hunter’s love child, she also came to a kind of defense of Miss California, Carrie Prejean:

When Prejean's inquisitor, the blogger known as Perez Hilton, asked about same-sex marriage, no one was really expecting her to say anything beyond some mumbled combination of the words "world peace," "love" and "tolerance." But then she had the nerve to have an opinion -- however awkwardly stated. And not only that, it wasn't the point of view the audience expected from a 22-year-old blonde who happily struts her surgically enhanced stuff in a bikini on national television in the sort of competition that has inspired more than a few drag shows. Prejean took a conservative stance. And in the cultural field guide, she is not what a conservative woman who puts her Christianity out there for public consumption is supposed to look like. She was not buttoned up. She did not look like an escapee from "Jesus Camp." Prejean looked like someone who enjoys a good cosmo. Prejean's words landed like a sucker punch on many who thought they knew what the opponents of same-sex marriage look like.

It’s fair to assert that those seeking to be ‘biblically correct" aren’t often on the catwalk in a bikini. But the fashionistas do seem to expect (even demand) that everyone in the world of beauty and modeling and hair and makeup must toe a P.C. line. It was refreshing to see Givhan come to any kind of defense of a conservative, which is not her usual pattern.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis