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When Black women argue, they are ridiculed and stereotyped

Men battle all the time. So why did the confrontation between Mayor Lightfoot and Ald. Jeanette Taylor become instant fodder at the virtual water cooler?

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Jeanette Taylor exchange words at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Why can’t Black women disagree?

A public argument between two powerful African American female politicians during a Chicago City Council meeting speaks to what it says — and doesn’t say — about Black women in power.

Wednesday’s up-close-and-personal confrontation between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor became instant fodder at the virtual water cooler.

During a chaotic Council meeting, Taylor joined 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez in a motion to hold up the approval of Celia Meza as the city’s new corporation counsel. They wanted to convey their unhappiness over how the Lightfoot administration is handling the case of Anjanette Young, the Chicago social worker who was traumatized by Chicago police officers in a 2019 wrongful raid on her home.

Lightfoot called for a recess, left the podium, and approached Taylor in the rear of the council chamber.

A tense argument ensued, with finger-pointing, and dismissive gestures, all caught on camera.

The mayor, Taylor later told the media, said the alderman had “cut out a Latinx woman, I cut out a woman of color,” by delaying the appointment of Meza.

Taylor told Lightfoot she was being disrespectful to Young and the Black community, and that the mayor was “bullying” her. She told the mayor: “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child. I am not a child.”

For her part, Lightfoot argues that the City Council should have approved Meza’s appointment and raised their concerns about the Young case another time.

Both women have a point, but the strife between them became the story.

It always does. Their blowup got traction because it was a confrontation between two influential Black women. Everyone loves a catfight, especially between us.

The images of their contretemps hit social media in minutes. Photos of the argument ran on the front page of this newspaper, two days in a row.

Media reports and blogs pushed a storyline about angry Black women who can’t get along. There was a meme of Lightfoot and Taylor superimposed over the fiery Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.” There were jokes about Lightfoot’s suits, and the way the women wear their hair. One photo-shopped image featured a wrestling referee trying to pull them apart. Commentators joked they were fighting over coleslaw and “a huge slice of Gino’s East deep dish pizza.”

Black leaders don’t share monolithic views. We have valid differences. But when Black women disagree in public, when they speak up, they are demeaned, and ridiculed with cartoonish stereotypes. We are labeled as angry, vindictive, domineering, unstable, unprofessional.

Men have battled throughout the ages.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump incessantly attacked, ridiculed and demeaned his opponents. He was rewarded with the White House.

The men who lead in our nation’s capital — from U.S. Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy — are at rhetorical and ideological blows most every day. Conservative Republicans in Washington are still defending the violent mobs who stormed the Capitol in defense of a lost presidency. These men are viewed as warriors, heroes and stand-up guys. That’s what they do.

Women of color are rising high in Chicago and Illinois politics in recent years. On Wednesday the City Council meeting approved Annette Nance-Holt as the first Black woman and woman of color to lead the Chicago Fire Department in the department’s 162-history.

Conflict is a natural outgrowth of power, whatever the race or gender of those in power.

Our public servants can disagree, but ultimately, they must get things done. Let them do it.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.