Two prominent African American women were insulted last Tuesday by White, male public figures who made disparaging remarks.
First Fox News host Bill O’Reilly ridiculed veteran congresswoman Maxine Waters, referring to her hair as “a James Brown wig,” after watching a video of the California Democrat criticizing Republican President Donald Trump’s policies.
Only a few hours later during a White House press briefing, American Urban Radio Network host April Ryan was scolded as if she were a child by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who told her to “stop shaking your head” as he responded to her question.
Activist Brittany Packnett created the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork to respond that Black women are fed up with the way they are treated in the workplace and encouraged them to share their experiences on Twitter. “I wanted the hashtag to make the invisible visible, to challenge non-black people to stand with Black women not just when this happens on television, but in the cube right next to them,” Packnett told The Huffington Post. “I’m surrounded every day by brilliant, confident, incredible Black professional women who get demeaned despite their prowess. Today, I was over it … I have deep and abiding respect for Congresswoman Waters and Ms. Ryan who are both trailblazers in their fields. They are to be respected, just like every other Black woman who rises each day to contribute to this society in ways that are all-too-often taken for granted.”
The hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork went from trending on social media to headlines on cable news shows.
In a speech last Tuesday afternoon, Hilary Clinton spoke of persistent presence of everyday sexism and racism. “Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride,” Clinton said. “But why should we have to. And any woman who thinks this couldn’t be directed at her is living in a dream world.”
Locally, several people gathered in front of the Fox 29 news station on Market Street on Thursday shouting, “Bill O’Reilly’s got to go” in protest of the television host’s insults towards Waters.
Paula Peebles, chair of the Philadelphia National Action Network, called for Fox to fire O’Reilly.
“We will not accept any insults, personal attacks on our women [or] our race from Fox or any other group,” Peebles said.
“We watched and listened to the unrelenting attacks against President Barack Obama, and they have moved on,” Peebles said. “Yet the attacks are continuing as evidenced by the disrespect displayed by both Bill O’Reilly and Sean Spicer.”
Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP chapter, joined in on the protest saying “when they come after our women, our men should be on the front line.”
O’Reilly apologized for his comments later that afternoon in a written statement. The next day Spicer kicked off Wednesday’s press briefing with a cordial greeting to Ryan after calling on her first.
O’Reilly and Spicer may think its okay to disrespect women because of their employer. O’Reilly is employed by a news network in which his former boss, Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, is accused of sexual harassment and Spicer, works for a president who has bragged about groping women.
If Spicer and O’Reilly’s were seeking to intimidate those who dare to question or criticize Trump they were mistaken. Waters and Ryan have shown that they are strong women who will not be intimidated from doing their job.