I was called to the stage to accept a prestigious journalism award. The dinner gala was packed with media influentials. Standing tall, corn rows swinging high, I strutted my best stuff to the podium and claimed the plaque with pride.
Later I heard from a white male friend who was sitting with one of Chicago’s top newspaper editors. The friend confided that, as I accepted the award, the white male editor looked up and snickered, “Who’s the disco queen?”
I was disgusted and devastated to hear this from someone at the top of his profession. But it was nothing new.
I am an African-American woman. That happened 20 years ago, and countless times since, to black women everywhere.
Last Tuesday, on “Fox and Friends,” the ever-obstreperous Fox Host Bill O’Reilly was asked to react to a video of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters speaking on patriotism on the floor of Congress.
“I didn’t hear a word she said,” O’Reilly replied. “I was looking at the James Brown wig.” O’Reilly and his white male colleagues had a good laugh. Later, he was forced to apologize to the veteran California congresswoman.
The same day at the White House daily briefing, April Ryan asked presidential press secretary Sean Spicer a tough question about investigations into ties between the Trump administration and the Russians. Ryan, American Urban Radio Network’s White House correspondent, has covered that beat for 20 years.
Spicer was at his testiest best. “At some point, report the facts,” he replied. “The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on this subject has come away with the same conclusion — Republican, Democrat — so I’m sorry that that disgusts you. You’re shaking your head, I appreciate it.”
No, those are not the facts.
“At some point, April,” he admonished her, “you’re going to have to take no for an answer with respect to whether or not there was collusion.”
And more. “I’m sorry, please stop shaking your head again.”
Ryan is not a child. She is a grown, accomplished black woman.
These affronts blew up the internet. Outraged black women are laying into social media to tell their tales.
We know the higher a black woman goes, the more she is put down. The more we speak up and out, the more we are demonized.
It happens under the media’s klieg lights, and everywhere else, in office cubicles, board rooms, classrooms, construction sites, police stations.
We know black women must be tougher, smarter, more professional than anyone else. We know we are held to higher standards. When we excel, and are rewarded with attacks on our hair, our hips, our lips, our attire, our intelligence.
We must also know these high-profile insults signal a new era, propagated by the president of the United States.
Donald Trump’s misogynist, bigoted 2016 presidential campaign has spawned and endorsed a dark environment that gives some permission to openly, even gleefully, demean and disrespect us. To treat us as children, as “the other.”
In this twisted, new world of Trumpism, it’s all in a day’s work.
I am not worried about pros like Waters and Ryan. Their iron spines and able brains arm them well.
The rest of us must turn internet outrage into action.