Who is Wendy Bell?
Before Wednesday, Wendy Bell was a lead anchor for WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh’s ABC affiliate. Today, Thursday, however, she’s the white Pittsburgh female equivalent of Tommy from Martin.
So she’s unemployed?
A week ago, as a response to a shooting in Wilkinsburg, Pa. (a suburb of Pittsburgh), that left six people dead, Bell shared her thoughts on the story in a Facebook post. The post went viral, receiving tens of thousands of likes, shares and comments.
So what was the problem?
The problem was that Bell’s post was perhaps the clearest example of “white privilege” and back-pattingly “well-meaning” white obliviousness these old eyes have ever seen. Like, remember that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy compliments Baxter for eating an entire wheel of cheese? This was that. I was more impressed by how she hit every target on the privilege dartboard than I was upset by it.
What exactly did she say? Can I find it anywhere?
Well, her original Facebook post has been taken down. As have the edits she made to it hours after it was published to try to make it less offensive. And the comments attached to it, many of which were deleted for being too critical. The sorry/not-sorry apology that came afterward—in which she apologized for people interpreting her words as racist instead of just saying “My words were racist”—is gone, too.
Fortunately, a full transcript of what she originally said can be found here. Below are the most pertinent parts, the cheese and eggs of her white-privilege quiche. And it is delicious:
I’ve been dragging around this feeling like a cold I can’t shake that rattles in my chest each time I breathe and makes my temples throb. I don’t want to hurt anymore. I’m tired of hurting. You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. I will tell you they live within 5 miles of Franklin Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard and have been hiding out since in a home likely much closer to that backyard patio than anyone thinks. They are young black men, likely teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested. They’ve made the circuit and nothing has scared them enough.
But there is HOPE. And Joe and I caught a glimpse of it Saturday night. A young, African American teen hustling like nobody’s business at a restaurant we took the boys to over at the Southside Works. This child stacked heavy glass glasses 10 high and carried three teetering towers of them in one hand with plates piled high in the other. He wiped off the tables. Tended to the chairs. Got down on his hands and knees to pick up the scraps that had fallen to the floor. And he did all this with a rhythm and a step that gushed positivity. He moved like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s going to Make It.
When Joe paid the bill, I asked to see the manager. He came over to our table apprehensively and I told him that that young man was the best thing his restaurant had going. The manager beamed and agreed that his young employee was special. As the boys and we put on our coats and started walking out—I saw the manager put his arm around that child’s shoulder and pat him on the back in congratulation. It will be some time before I forget the smile that beamed across that young worker’s face—or the look in his eyes as we caught each other’s gaze. I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.
Wow. So she began this screed with some hyperbolic description of how this was making her feel? As if her particular feelings are the only ones that matter here?
And then, despite no actual evidence suggesting this to be true, she states that the killers were black, were from the neighborhood (and not just from the neighborhood, but hiding out in the neighborhood), have mothers who slept around and have just as many jobs as baby daddies?
And then she shares a completely unrelated story about some server at a restaurant, connecting that experience to the murders, even though the only thing this server and the (presumed) killers have in common is that they’re black?
And then she proceeds to morph into some post-racial Scarlett O’Hara, remarking how great he was at getting on his hands and knees to pick up her family’s scraps, and complimenting his “rhythm” and how he “moved like a dancer” with a “satisfied smile,” practically turning this server kid into a hamboning Bruno Mars in blackface?
And then, as the cherry on the privilege pound cake, she had the audacity to suggest that the compliment she gave him might have been the first compliment he had ever heard, implying that these types of compliments from nice white women can stop black boys like this server from being murderers?
OK. So what happened next?
She was publicly reprimanded by her station. And then, Wednesday, she was fired. Which, at that point, seemed inevitable.
Even more disturbing and illuminating than Bell’s post, however, are the many who believed—and still believe—that she did nothing wrong. These are people who believe Bell was being real, not racist. And some of these people don’t just scoff at the suggestion that Bell’s creed was white privilege personified.
They don’t even believe that white privilege exists. They don’t see how Bell’s words were an articulation of a worldview that assures these types of white people that their thoughts, opinions and feelings are the only ones that matter. That there’s nothing wrong with saying that the only thing separating a server from a murderer is a white woman’s smile. They don’t want to admit that this privilege is so ingrained in America’s zeitgeist, so specifically American, that challenging it feels insulting—threatening, even—to them. They don’t realize that the incredulousness felt when forced to acknowledge the presence of privilege is actually proof of its existence.
I see. So what happens next?
Well, according to her interview Wednesday with the Associated Press, Wendy Bell still considers herself to be a victim. Which means she’ll definitely have a job at Fox News next week.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.