When Underwood asked Osbourne how she would respond to people who felt Morgan’s comments were racist, Osbourne became offended and shot back with a defensive, heavily censored response and said she felt like she was being put in “the electric chair.” At one point, Osbourne snapped at Underwood, “Don’t try and cry, because if anyone should be crying, it should be me.”
Underwood and co-host Elaine Welteroth, who are both Black, appeared shocked and unnerved by Osbourne’s reaction — as were many viewers watching at home. The fallout was swift. CBS put the show on hiatus and launched an internal investigation over the incident. Osbourne apologized “to anyone of color that I offended and/or to anyone that feels confused or let down by what I said,” but she also claimed that she was “set up” by the show. Ultimately, it led to Osbourne’s departure in late March.
On Monday, the co-hosts gathered for the first time since the weeks-long hiatus, and they didn’t shy away from discussing the episode. They devoted the hour to talking about racism, allyship, how to be anti-racist and how to heal from racial trauma. But a major theme that emerged was one of the reasons the story remained in the news cycle for the past month: Watching a White woman talk over Black women and dismiss their comments — especially when they were trying to explain an issue involving racism — hit a nerve among viewers.
“I think when you go back and watch what happened in that episode, you will see two Black women walking the same tightrope that Black women are walking every single day in the workplace,” Welteroth said. “We knew that we had to stay composed in that situation. Even in the face of someone who was a) not listening and b) who went off the rails into disrespect, when we were maintaining our respect within the context of this very complex, charged, emotional conversation.”
Underwood said it’s still difficult to revisit the day, and she heard from women during the show’s hiatus who faced similar disrespect.
“There were other women saying, ‘I go through this in other parts of my life where I’m trying to express something and it’s not being heard and not being digested and it’s almost a feeling of being trapped,’ ” Underwood said. “I wanted to be an example for every woman that might be on a job somewhere and be faced with something like that — but definitely Black women who have to manage not just their own expectations and responses, but we have to manage ourselves. … Regardless of your background, every day there’s some woman going through something like this.”
Underwood added that the most striking moment was when Osbourne ordered her not to cry, when in fact she was tearing up because she felt like she had to restrain so much of what she wanted to say.
“If I had responded, then I would have been the angry Black woman,” Underwood said. “And I think I’m talking to my friend, somebody I can trust. And I think that’s what resonated with Black women out there.”
Underwood said she hasn’t spoken with Osbourne since the incident because of the internal investigation; neither she nor Welteroth could talk about it until it concluded. Welteroth also addressed the allegations that Osbourne was set up in some way.
“I think it’s really important we have the opportunity to say the false accusations forming in the press that frame Sheryl and I as some kind of people who attacked a woman on air and were part of some conspiracy,” Welteroth said. “That is absolutely, categorically false.”
Welteroth also pointed out that the story was always bigger than the duchess or Piers Morgan, which is why so many connected to the controversy. During Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, the duchess said that she was so isolated during her time as a member of the royal family that she considered taking her own life. And when she went to “royal HR” to seek help, they turned her away. Morgan, a British TV personality, said he didn’t “believe a word.”
Quite a few viewers could relate to Meghan as the situation played out publicly, perhaps remembering times in their own lives when they were dismissed or spoken over.
“I think it’s really important we see these pop culture examples, including what happened here on our show, as sort of a mirror that’s reflecting back patterns and troubling experiences and dynamics that play out in everybody’s life, in workplaces all over this country and families all over this world,” Welteroth said. “So for me, I think a lot of women see themselves in Meghan Markle and her experience of being silenced and then not being believed when she came forward with her truth.”
The show invited Donald Grant, a diversity and inclusion expert, to moderate the conversation and share ways to be an ally, including listening to people of color’s experiences and also realizing that they should not always have the burden of explaining racism. A therapist, Anita Phillips, appeared later in the episode to discuss how racial trauma can be a “repetitive stress injury” that has similar symptoms to post-traumatic stress disorder.
At the end, the co-hosts — including Amanda Kloots and Carrie Ann Inaba — said they will return to their regular programming Tuesday but continue to address these topics over time.
“I would hope with growth comes evolution. You know? I want the audience to take this journey with us and watch the show every day. Stick with us,” Underwood said. “Because we’re about talking, and we’re about talking things out, and we’re about learning from each other, laughing with each other and healing together. So I would hope that would continue.”