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Comedian (And Former 'The Onion' Writer) Baratunde Thurston Responds to Wallis Insult Controversy

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by Sergio
February 25, 2013 4:33 PM
28 Comments
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Comedian, satirist and author ("How To be Black") Baratunde Thurston has just publicly come out with a statement responding to The Onion's stupid and offensive tweet about Quvenzhane Wallis during last night's Oscar boroadcast.

His response was anticipated since Thurston, until last year, worked at The Onion as a writer and as their Director of Digital. 

The question is, do you buy what he says, or is he, pardon my French, trying to cover his ass?

Here's his statement completely unedited:

I missed the Oscars last night, and so I missed the live tweeting, and so I missed The Onion's tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis (just use google if you don't know what i'm talking about). I've been flooded with questions about what they were thinking and why didn't I stop it, and "SERIOUSLY BARATUNDE YOU ARE BLACK HOLLA AT YOUR BOYS WTF!!??" 

First, I haven't worked there since May so don't KNOW anything about this incident from an insider perspective. I'm not a spokesperson. I'm not an advocate or defender. I'm not their official black friend. I'm just writing this as ME though I'm clearly in a position to have some perspective since I tweet hard and used to do so with/at The Onion and do/love comedy and satire and also amazing child actors.

Second, I think I understand the underlying target of the joke: The Onion largely satirizes media and the general public. Everyone fawning over a clearly lovely and innocent little girl presents an opportunity to go the opposite direction with something contrasting and clearly false. It was also a take on tabloid media extremism. (I'm remembering the headline about the media's struggles in covering Obama's double homicide) but it was an extremely high risk move and missed that target by WIDE margin. Limited upside. HORRIBLE downside.

It wasn't necessary and was loaded with horrible language. In the context of what I've read about Seth McFarlane's jokes, I feel especially bad for Wallis and her family who won't "get" or care what the comedic idea was and only know that some comedy news organization called their little girl a disgusting, sexist name. It just comes across as mean. Intention does matter, and based on my time there, I'm sure the intent was not, "Hey let's call this little girl a cunt. Ha. Ha." However, RECEPTION and context matter as well, and this utterly failed in that regard.

I'm glad The Onion removed the tweet (which BTW for that outlet is a massive massive decision).

Also FYI, this is not some new practice of "Baratunde Tries To Explain Place He No Longer Works At," and due to time constraints and other priorities, I'm unlikely to get into back and forth commentary beyond this post for now. I don't like explaining jokes. I don't like overly deconstructing art in general or The Onion in particular, but this was an extraordinary situation, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts and try to address the scores of questions people have been asking me.

Also, I believe the children are the future.

h/t to Candace Allen

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28 Comments

  • Hiring Comedy Writers | May 8, 2013 4:20 AMReply

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  • Jo | March 2, 2013 1:16 AMReply

    Oh, yes, Baratunde, because satire is an acceptible excuse for picking on a child! Your little " I believe the children are the future" statement is irrelevent, random, and doesn't hide your slave mentality. You're a ridiculous black male who has been brainwashed deeply into white supremacy. You suck, and I pity you.

  • Rashida | March 1, 2013 8:24 AMReply

    I reread what Baratunde Thurston wrote twice just to make sure I was comprehending what I was reading. Seriously, what is wrong with you? Not even one statement to support the innocence of a young, black girl. I guess your allegiance to the onion is worth more. Unbelievable.

  • Lynn | February 27, 2013 4:33 PMReply

    ***Seriously!!??
    Oh my! Get real, everyone. The statement was not called for, no.
    However, it seems EVERYONE has forgotten one very important thing.
    That statement was 99% ABOUT GEORGE CLOONEY. 1% about the young girl. The statement, is in fact, TRUE since they were pointing out that GEORGE dates EXTREMELY YOUNG LADIES

  • ALM | February 28, 2013 3:45 PM

    Lynn. You are focusing on the wrong comment. This post is about the TWEET that was sent by "The Onion", not about Seth McFarlane's commentary.

  • o | February 26, 2013 7:40 PMReply

    Come on now we know black people never have each others back, "too busy being jealous of each other", his response was exactly what I thought it would be. He still has to work you know, "with the white man".

  • Santana | February 26, 2013 10:34 AMReply

    @sagevalentine you forgot to add Amandla Stenberb from the Hunger Games movie. She received plenty of not so nice comments from closeted racists? This seems to be a new pattern.

  • sagevalentine | February 26, 2013 8:53 PM

    Thank you for reminding me. Yes, she certainly did. As a person who read the book series, the casting was on point. Rue was a young black female whose skin was of a deeper shade of mahogany. Those who spoke out against lil Amandla's casting never read the series. And don't get me started on Katniss....she is supposed to brown as well with green eyes and unruly hair.

  • sagevalentine | February 26, 2013 2:06 AMReply

    First Gabby Douglass...now Quvenzhane.....smdh.

    It is not okay to make fun of a 9 year old girl...period.

    Quvenzhane Wallis is a brilliant little lady who has quite a career ahead of her. If not acting then she will become a dentist. Whoever, it was who wrote the tweet should be ashamed of themselves. The fact that this black history month makes this comment even more annoying. It is bad enough that the media butchered her name and used it as punch line. Not cool.

    As for the Oscar voter who claimed that Quvenzhane would not recieve an Oscar because of her name....whatever. If you can learn how to pronounce Gruffudd(Gri-fith), Wasikowska(Vasicowska),Weiss (Vice),Joaquin and Fiennes (fines) then, you can pronounce Quvenzhane.

    This is why I did not watch the Oscars for more than a half hour. I turned the channel to watch The Walking Dead instead.

  • ALM | February 25, 2013 11:53 PMReply

    "Second, I think I understand the underlying target of the joke: The Onion largely satirizes media and the general public. Everyone fawning over a clearly lovely and innocent little girl presents an opportunity to go the opposite direction with something contrasting and clearly false". <<<Due to responses like this and "freedom of speech" we are currently at a time where people can say ANYTHING about ANYONE, and it's really sad.

    "In the context of what I've read about Seth McFarlane's jokes, I feel especially bad for Wallis and her family who won't "get" or care what the comedic idea was and only know that some comedy news organization called their little girl a disgusting, sexist name. It just comes across as mean."<<< Not only did he give his former employer a pass, he also insults Miss Walli's ENTIRE family by saying that they won't "get" the joke. Really?!!! He better hope noone ever calls his future daughters anything derogatory.


    "Intention does matter, and based on my time there, I'm sure the intent was not, "Hey let's call this little girl a cunt. Ha. Ha." However, RECEPTION and context matter as well, and this utterly failed in that regard".<<< This is another problem. How does he know the intention of the tweeter? As he stated above, he no longer works there, so how does he purport to know the mind/intentions of the individual who sent the tweet? Is he psychic? Why is he defending an anonymous person? He ultimately blames the audience for not "receiving" the message properly in his opinion as opposed to calling out The Onion for the offensive tweet. He then makes sure to let everyone know that he won't be going back and forth on the issue, so that he won't have to have genuine dialogue about this topic. He would have been better staying silent on this issue.

  • BluTopaz | February 25, 2013 9:25 PMReply

    What kind of diseased mind even associates a child with that word, and has the nerve to publicize it? I really appreciate Wendell Pierce's reaction to this, and wish I could say I'm surprised by these "liberal" neanderthals but I'm not. Someone mentioned if this was said about Suri Cruise the entire Onion staff would be unemployed today. Yes that's because of her father, but that brings up classism in addition to everything else---a little girl who does not have a Hollywood pedigree should not be up for fair game by some deviant looking for a cheap laugh.

    Getthesenets brought up a good point about Twitter rules, I don't know them either but at the least the Onion CEO should be ashamed enough to fire that loser, and contact Ms. Wallis' parents to offer a personal apology--never mind simply posting one on the Internet.

  • Tim | February 25, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    I knew people would jump on BT because he isn't frothing at the mouth, leading a mob to storm the offices of The Onion. I'm glad the brother had a level headed response.

  • getthesenets | February 25, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    I made the comment about Seth's jokes at Oscars being in poor taste (with aCHILD in the front row) before I knew about ths story.

    just poor taste.


    Grown man or woman tweeting this flith about kid is just some loser shit. Even if your brain works like that were you would THINK of saying something like that, don't you have a conscience?

    F these hipster low life racist pedo MFers.

    and is there a law on the books that covers this type of incident?
    at the very least, I would think this violates some kind of twitter rule ( i don't twitter, so I don't know)

  • getthesenets | February 26, 2013 3:00 PM

    @Troy

    what does that have to do with THIS story?

  • Troy | February 26, 2013 2:03 PM

    A lot of parents curse worse than this in front of their kids.

  • Zaidi | February 25, 2013 5:35 PMReply

    What's to "get?" Your shameful and fawning defense of Onion and pitiful explanation for their ascribing such a vile, pornographic word upon the innocence of a little girl shows that you are also part of the problem.

  • afroblue32 | February 25, 2013 5:44 PM

    Amen

  • Sharon | February 25, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    The Onion has changed.... For the worse. Period. What was said was not a joke. It has no comedic value, as many I wish I was a commedian, commedians who think they are funny. BTW I don't think a former writer has to answer for or cover his A$$ I don't get that logic. Let's just bring someone black up front and smooth this over. Well, that didn't work for me. Get a brain and write something that makes sense.

  • Vichus | February 25, 2013 5:02 PMReply

    Um, what would he be"covering his ass" about? He had nothing to do with this, at all.

    I think his statement was well put, and I would basically say the same thing.

    The wording of what The Onion said was just meant for an incendary response. You cannot use the word cunt in the direction of a female, black, innocent child and not expect ears to perk up, and buttons to get pushed. It's sexually charged, and them people then bring a racial aspect to it. That plane not only crashed, but it was then hit with a nuclear bomb.

    If they said something different, something to the effect of "Quvenzhane's the worst person ever" or something else absurd like that, just in a PG way, no one would be talking about The Onion today.

  • Akimbo | February 25, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    I think that's a perfect response. Whoever wrote the tweet was targeting how beloved Quevenzhane is and didn't factor in any racial implications or how ugly that word is. I don't think there was ill intent, but it came off terribly and never should have happened in the first place.

  • Rocko | February 25, 2013 4:52 PMReply

    What would he be covering his ass about?

  • Vichus | February 25, 2013 5:06 PM

    It doesn't come across like he's covering his ass.

  • sergio | February 25, 2013 5:00 PM

    Coveing his ass in the sense that since he did work there, and one presumes still has friends who work there, that some may think that he somehow approved what the Onion did. Which is the reason why he had to come out with this statement to distance himself from them

  • getthesenets | February 25, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    Baratunde Thurston???????

    WTF,,,did Gilligan's island boat shipwreck in Nigeria and the rich guy married local woman?


    F the onion and whoever wrote the bullshit? Just name the person who WROTE the tweet..have him or her publicly apologize...and leave it at that.....the more BT acts like he's not the tap dancing Black friend.....the more he sounds EXACTLY like that guy.
    if you have to explain a "joke"..it's not any parts of funny..

    lowlife stuff masquerading as "jokes" has been a problem for pop culture for years now...stuff that would only be said in private "roasts" ..is now standard humor

    blue humor is easy to do...being a lowlife is easy also.

  • Vichus | February 25, 2013 8:33 PM

    They'll probably keep who tweeted it under wraps, and then another slip will get that person fired. Who knows how high up this person is in that group, though? Who came up with the joke, and who gave the go-ahead to tweet it?

  • getthesenets | February 25, 2013 5:37 PM

    @Vichus

    thanks for the link

    I'd rather hear from the person who wrote the tweet, than from BT.
    Claim and own whatever you say and deal with consequences and repurcussions.

  • Vichus | February 25, 2013 5:10 PM

    You can hear his whole story, including his name, here.

    girlonguy.net/podcast/girl-on-guy-42-baratunde-thurston/

    So that's what you want? Someone to read a BS, insincere, "please don't kill us/call us racist/call us sexist because that fucks with our money" apology? That works for you? I like people who either stick with the stuff they put out for public consumption, or SINCERELY realize the wrong they've done.

    I do agree, though, that I don't expect something like The Onion to think "Hey, twitter has a diverse crowd of millions; it's time to put out this joke with highly charged language in it."

    Very foolish.

  • August | February 25, 2013 4:47 PMReply

    He doesn't work there anymore and he hasn't worked there for a long while now. It is not his responsibility to address something he had no input on. I agree withe this statement and if I were him, I would not have a desire to do PR for company I don't work for anymore

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