Like many Americans, Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo was troubled at the announcement of A&E’s documentary series Generation KKK, billed as a look at young people struggling to leave the organization. Many saw it as the media’s continued normalization of white supremacy with soft and, at times, flattering coverage of those in and associated with neo Nazi and white nationalist organizations.

The actress expressed her concerns over several days on Twitter.

After pressure from the public, A&E changed the name of the series from Generation KKK to Escaping the KKK (the series has since been canceled after continued public outcry.) And Pompeo expressed her joy at the name change in a tweet using black emojis.

Most of Pompeo’s fans applauded her social media activism, but some black fans expressed concern that a. she was celebrating a name change when the show was still going to air and b. she used black emojis in her status.

And then things went left.

Pompeo chose to address critics of her emoji use, while completely ignoring those who asked why, after days of saying the show should be off the air, she was celebrating a name change. She claimed that any criticism she was receiving as “all about emojis.”

In defending her use of the black emojis, Pompeo employed several cringeworthy arguments.

She cried reverse racism, stating the many times she has been called a “white bitch” on Twitter. And she pushed back against commenters who tried to explain that insults are not the same as being systematically targeted based on race.

She said she was being attacked for “standing up for equality” and started retweeting white fans whose support had an uncomfortable ‘after all she’s done for YOU people’ tone.

At one point Pompeo referenced her black husband and biracial daughter, stating that white people are targets of racism for having black partners.


This is a case of something relatively small being needlessly turned into something big. But it’s also a case of what can happen when a public figure doesn’t have a full understanding of the cause they’re advocating for. Is it petty to drag Pompeo for using black emojis? I’d say yes. Trump is about to be President. In the grand scheme of things, a white celeb using a black ‘hands clap’ emoji isn’t high on my list of ‘things to go off on Twitter’ for. Also, this is a bit of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario. White women with black partners and biracial children are often accused of staying silent in the face of racism. But when Pompeo used her 1.2 million fan Twitter platform to speak up, she received pushback for a relatively minor infraction.

On the other hand Pompeo has betrayed her own shallow understanding of race issues. She chose to respond to criticism about emojis instead of engaging in a more thoughtful discussion about why a name-change was an essential non-victory. She was also very quick to cast herself as a martyr and bemoan the “racism from all sides”.

This feels particularly tone deaf in a year when Leslie Jones was driven off Twitter by violently racist white men, and then had her driver’s license and nude photos leaked, simply for being cast in the Ghostbusters remake, and Fifth Harmony member Normani Kordei also left the platform after fans of the band (of which she is the only black member) photoshopped her head onto pictures of black women being lynched.

It is also telling that Pompeo perceives her speaking out as doing something noble for people of color. White supremacy is a belief system that is dangerous not just to people of color, but to everyone — including whites. This past election the white working class voted against its own interests (social security, Medicare, The Affordable Care Act, public education, Wall Street reform, etc) in a bid to suppress people of color. White people simply cannot continue to view speaking out against racism as something they do for others, although it does undoubtedly benefit others. It’s something they do for themselves, in honor of their own humanity and in defense of the multicultural world they live in.

Adding to the distastefulness of the situation Pompeo, at one point, angled to use the A&E controversy as a way to promote her show, Grey’s Anatomy, at one point asking fans to get the phrase “who needs A&E when you have ABC!” trending. ABC is the network Grey’s appears on.

The whole thing is just… unfortunate. Ladies, what are your thoughts?