CoverGirl’s only male brand ambassador, James Charles, has come under fire for a “racist” joke about the Ebola virus that he made on Twitter this week.
Tweeting about a conversation he had with a friend, the 17-year-old wrote:
“I can’t believe we’re going to Africa on Friday omg what if we get Ebola?” “James we’re fine we could’ve gotten it at chipotle last year.”
It has since been deleted.
Ebola is an extremely dangerous and deadly virus, outbreaks of which occur in tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa. The last major outbreak of ebola, in the West African nation of Guinea, ceased being an emergency last year.
Following James Charles’ Tweet, a significant number of his 1.68 million followers on social media immediately bombarded him with condemnations for his seemingly racist tweet. There were also widespread calls for a boycott of all CoverGirl products.
The furor echoed the 2015 Gawker hitpiece by Sam Biddle on an obscure PR woman, Justine Sacco, who joked that she hoped she wouldn’t get AIDS when traveling in Africa. The debacle caused Sacco, who had only 170 followers on Twitter, to lose her job.
As for James Charles, he initially expressed exasperation at the anger towards his Tweet. In a now-deleted Tweet, the male model and fashion vlogger wrote:
“do NOT put words in my mouth holy fuck I cannot wait to not have cell service for 10 days so I don’t have to deal with twitter”
As his Tweets made the rounds, over two dozen articles were written over the topic, bearing titles like “’Woke’ White Teen Jokes About Traveling to Africa and Catching Ebola,” many of which condemned the teen for his perpetuation of anti-black racism. Some articles misidentified him as transgender.
James Charles eventually became contrite and issued an apology for the statements he made on Twitter.
“I am extremely sorry for my Tweet and I feel like shit for saying it,” he wrote. “I am traveling to Africa with a few friends for a school trip, ironically enough, it’s an educational trip because we all know very little about the country but are eager to learn.”
“As a white cis male I recognize my privilege and would never want to take that for granted, but I f–ked up… I understand why what I said was offensive and ignorant.”
CoverGirl also issued a statement, writing:
“James Charles’ Tweet does not represent COVERGIRL’s perspective. We agree his statements were inappropriate but appreciate that he has issued an apology. We are an inclusive brand and respect all people and cultures.”
Many of those outraged by the teen model refused to accept his apology, doubting his sincerity.