There is something about black women in positions of power and influence that brings out the devil in white men. The residue of evil clings to them like a moldy cloak.
One could rightfully argue that this is true for all women. But it is black women in particular—being unyielding, assertive and ungovernable in the face of white supremacist and patriarchal restraints—who have been known to send some white men over the edge or, at the very least, expose them for the contemptible swine that they are.
This was on clear display several times Tuesday in instances involving White House correspondent and veteran journalist April Ryan; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.); and CNN political commentator Angela Rye.
During Tuesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer—who is, by far, one of the most ignorant and incompetent people ever to hold the position—channeled Melissa McCarthy in response to Ryan’s simple inquiry: How does the Trump administration plan to revamp its image after months of being mired in controversy after controversy, including but not limited to Trump’s apparent collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
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What ensued was a tense back-and-forth during which Spicer accused Ryan of having an “agenda” and being “hell-bent” on framing the Trump administration as inept and deceptive. Ryan, who is a grown woman, shook her head twice, and Spicer just could not take it.
“I’m sorry, please stop shaking your head again,” Spicer said, obviously under the false impression that he has the authority to tell Ryan what to do, when to do it and how to do it.
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, perhaps most famous for being a propaganda-spouting, abusive bigot, decided to mock Waters’ hair during a turn on Fox & Friends earlier this week.
During a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Waters talked about the perversion of already problematic patriotism in the Trump era of U.S. executive governance.
“We fight against this president and we point out how dangerous he is,” Waters said. “ ... We’re fighting for democracy. We’re fighting for America. We’re saying to those who say they’re patriotic, but they turn a blind eye to the destruction he is about to cause to this country: You are not nearly as patriotic as we are.”
To which O’Reilly responded, “I couldn’t hear a word she said; I was looking at the James Brown wig.”
Then we have Joe Walsh, a one-term Illinois congressman and deadbeat father who, if not for the pervasive acceptance of white male mediocrity as standard, would be an erased footnote in history.
Walsh decided that Tuesday was the day to try it with Angela Rye on Twitter. What prompted this unforced error? Rye rightfully pointed out the racist and hypocritical standard applied to former President Barack Obama as opposed to the white male yardstick used to measure the inadequacies of Donald Trump.
“ ... Barack Obama had to be the next-best thing to Jesus; and here we are, just two months in[to the Trump administration], and ... there is issue after issue,” Rye said on Monday’s Anderson Cooper 360.
Walsh, who, in addition to failing forward in life at breakneck speed, clearly has low reading-comprehension skills, as evidenced by his misquote of Rye. Then, doubling down on his absurdity, he chastised her for comparing Obama to Jesus Christ—even though that is not what she did.
These are just a few of the examples of the paternalistic condescension and disrespect that black women are expected to endure, and we should be under no illusions here.
Spicer, who clearly doesn’t have the range for his position, felt comfortable scolding Ryan, not merely because she is a woman challenging the clown car that is the Trump administration, but because she is a black woman.
O’Reilly, who is the most equal-opportunity misogynist among the lot of them, felt comfortable attacking Waters’ hair, not simply because she is a woman, but because she is a black woman.
Walsh, who would fade into obscurity if not for his conscientious and impenetrable stupidity, felt comfortable patronizing Rye, not solely because she is a woman, but because she is a black woman.
The conjoined oppressions of race and gender tells us this—it has always told us this. It is not only the fact that Ryan is in the room that disturbs Spicer; it is that she’s at the front of the room and not silently and gratefully sitting in the back taking notes and regurgitating the lies that this administration spews.
The same can be said in varying degrees of Waters and Rye, and it is what black women, who are eminently smarter than the white men who consider themselves to be our equals, deal with on a daily basis. The assumption that we do not belong, that we are intrusive and ignorant. That we are uppity Negresses who do not know our places in society’s hierarchy.
It is a clear manifestation of slave-master syndrome.
These are the white men who cannot wield whips that shred the skin on our backs. They cannot find the nearest rope and hang us from trees. They cannot rape us and take ownership of our children, though our white supremacist nation, supported by an (in)justice system smeared with the blood of black bodies, is guilty of protecting and perpetuating all of the above genocidal acts.
They resent that, deeply. And that white male resentment of free black women is embedded in the toxic fabric of this country. As I’ve written previously, black women know white supremacy to be a feminist issue on the most intimate and painful level because systemic oppression has always been mapped onto the bodies of black women.
One has only to look at the fact that sexual violence is the second-highest reported form of police violence and that most of the victims are black and Latinx women (pdf).
One has only to look at the cases of Marlene Pinnock, Sandra Bland, Jacqueline Craig and Brea Hymond, Dajerria Becton, Rekia Boyd, Aura Rosser and Tarika Wilson, as well as numerous other cases of black women and girls being manhandled or murdered by white men operating on behalf of the state. We can go further back to organizer and freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer, who was savagely assaulted in 1963 by police officers in Winona, Miss.
We can go even further back to 1918. Mary Turner was beaten, doused with gasoline, lynched and shot in Lowndes County, Ga. As Turner, who was eight months pregnant, swung upside down from a tree, her stomach was slit open and her unborn baby crushed beneath the boots of white degenerates who wanted to put her in her place.
We live in a world where the bodies of black women are considered escaped property, our voices unsheathed weapons, but we experience more than state-sanctioned violence and relentless institutional discrimination. Our very existence is policed and pathologized. Whatever power we wrest from white men is too often tenuous. Our dreams are too often crushed beneath their boots, and our souls too often lynched for their amusement because black women were never supposed to survive free.
Black women know that there is more than one way to die.
So, what do some white men do today when they feel threatened by us? What do they do when they realize that they are entitled to neither our silence nor subservience? What do they do when their unearned pride is chafed and their chests expand with anxiety and resentment and hatred? What do they do when they are insulted by black women owning unapologetic voices that say more than, “Yes, suh,” “No, suh” and “Thank you, suh”?
What do they do when black women are respected veteran journalists and elected officials and business owners and political commentators who refuse to stay in the place that a malevolent society has prescribed for them?
They whine. They pout. They attack. They belittle. They scream from their flimsy pedestals of power. They massage the psyches of other white men who hate that black women are free to tell them, simply by existing, how ridiculously underqualified and unworthy they—and their favorites—are.
And black women—what do we do? We continue to outrun history by replicating the brilliance of our foremothers; we stand, unbought and unbossed, in a fraught present; we lead a generation of ungovernable black women into the future—all at the same time.
This is something that Spicer, Walsh, O’Reilly and their ilk would do well to remember.