#BlackWomenAtWork: Facing Adversity on the Hill
BY: ALEXIS ARNOLD
Last Monday, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) gave a speech to the House of Representatives that condemned Donald Trump’s policies, and questioned the patriotism of his supporters. Unfortunately, when her speech was discussed on the talk show Fox & Friends, her physical appearance received the most attention.
Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," joked that he couldn’t pay attention to Waters’ speech because of her “James Brown wig.” It may seem like he was only making fun of her hair, but O’Reilly’s comment is more than just a bad joke.
In the beginning of the clip, O’Reilly says he thinks Rep. Waters should have her own “sitcom.” Along with the wig comment, this point indicates that he views Waters as a caricature, who should continue to be on display for his entertainment. Overlooking the passion and intelligence of a black woman to ridicule her image is blatantly disrespectful to her and the issue she is trying to address.
The way black women are talked about in the media is extremely different from the way white men are discussed. Aside from President Trump’s hair making headlines, the media rarely critiques the physical appearances of white men in government.
Even the way black women are spoken to in the political sphere can be problematic. This issue was recently brought to public attention through Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s treatment of White House correspondent April Ryan. During a press conference last Tuesday, Spicer repeatedly spoke over Ryan when she questioned President Trump’s relationship with Russia. The heated confrontation ended with Spicer telling Ryan, “stop shaking your head.”
Spicer has been known to attack the press, but he took on a particularly infantilizing tone when speaking to Ryan.
This is not the first time Ryan has faced racial adversity at the White House. During a press conference in February, Ryan asked Trump if he was going to include the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in future policy discussions. The president responded by saying that he would love to, and told Ryan to set up a meeting with caucus members. He made the assumption that as a black person, Ryan would know members of the CBC. Trump then ignored Ryan’s attempt to explain that she was only a journalist, who (obviously) doesn’t know every black congressperson.
Racism while working, whether subtle or overt, is not only a problem for women who work on the Hill. The problems that Rep. Waters and April Ryan faced inspired other black women to start the Twitter hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork to share their own experiences facing racism and sexism in the workplace.
Recognizing discriminatory language and practices is an important step in creating an inclusive work environment . However, truly eliminating his way of thinking and speaking —especially in the workplace where it can prevent qualified black women from reaching their full potential— is the most important action we can take.
Cover: (CNN Money)