In a fiery keynote speech at the Black Women’s Expo Phenomenal Woman Gala on Thursday night, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters denounced President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office and addressed at length her recent brouhaha with Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly.
O’Reilly sparked outrage last week when he made fun of the hairstyle of the veteran civil rights activist, a ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services, past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and one of the most powerful black women in American politics.
“He had the audacity to try and demean and intimidate me,” Waters told a packed ballroom of about 500 people at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
“I recognized that really, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just me, a member of Congress, who too often is the recipient of disparaging and negative comments, mostly made by white men who believe that they’re all things to all people,” she said.
“I decided that I would use my response to remind black women how truly special we are, how nurturing we are, and how we make tremendous contributions to our families, our communities and to our country. And my message to black women: I’m a strong black woman. I cannot be intimidated. And don’t allow these right-wing talking heads to intimidate you or to scare you. Do what you do,” she added.
With 27 years in the U.S. House, Waters, who also sits on the House Steering & Policy Committee and Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been an outspoken advocate on issues confronting people of color, women and inner cities, and as such, she has been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump.
She ended up in the crosshairs of the controversial talk show host after a speech on March 28. O’Reilly said on the “Fox and Friends” morning show: “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”
The comment drew laughter, and when chided by another host, O’Reilly doubled down, saying, “It’s the same hair James Brown, the ‘Godfather of Soul’ had.”
The comments, called sexist and racist by many, were quickly denounced. Speaking at the Professional Women’s Conference in Los Angeles the same day, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called it “a racist joke,” adding, “too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride.”
“I want to take just a moment to remind everybody just who Bill O’Reilly is, and who [ousted Fox News chief] Roger Ailes is. They have been sued by women over and over again for sexual harassment,” Waters said.
“Now, as God would have it, over 40 companies have withdrawn their ads from the O’Reilly show. And the Justice Department has opened an investigation into Fox News, raising a question of whether or not they have failed to report the $13 million that they have paid out for harassment suits to their investors. And so I want to remind people that this Bill O’Reilly is someone that we need not pay attention to, because his day is coming,” she said.
Waters, who spent the better part of a one-hour speech denouncing Trump’s policies and the increasing revelations on his administration’s ties to the Russian government, also denounced Trump’s support of O’Reilly after revelation of the sexual harassment lawsuit settlements.
“It appears that women are still coming forward to talk about their experiences with what I have dubbed the sexual harassment enterprise at Fox News. And while the sexual harassment allegations and hostile working environment at Fox have been swirling around for years, what should concern us most now, is that the president of the United States is defending one of Fox News’ most notorious offenders,” she said.
“And when the president of the United States goes out of his way to defend a sexual predator, he is sending a message that will have broader consequences outside of his single statement. This statement sends a message that it’s OK to treat women this way. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s not. It’s disrespectful to us as women and as voters.”
Now the longest-running expo of its kind, the 23rd annual Black Women’s Expo will run Friday through Sunday at McCormick Place, expected to draw more than 30,000 attendees from 14 states for three days of workshops and seminars drawing businesses targeting black consumers.