I am happy Sean Spicer chastised April Ryan, a Black woman, 30-year veteran journalist, and highly respected White House correspondent. I am thrilled Spicer said he is looking forward to Sally Yates, former acting U.S. Attorney General, testifying before Congress about Russia while simultaneously claiming reports the White House tried to bar her from doing so were lies peddled by the Washington Post. I am practically beside myself with glee that Bill O’Reilly gave a shout out to James Brown’s wig as he disparaged 13-term congresswoman and “strong black woman,” the Honorable Maxine Waters of the 43rd Congressional District of California. But a Fox host really stole my heart subsequently saying Waters should “step away from the crack pipe.”
I am thrilled because they are scared: Their racist, sexist comments and actions aren’t made by people of character or legitimate confidence. They are terrified of women, women in positions of power, women of color, and especially women of color with clout. I am even more thrilled because these comments, these slurs and dog whistles to the Trump base only serve to embolden women everywhere.
Appearing on MSNBC later that day, Waters was given the opportunity to respond to O’Reilly’s racist comments. She shook her head—NO: No more air time for him. Instead she thanked Hillary Clinton for speaking out for all women and “in particular Black women.” Waters went on, “I’d like to say to women out there everywhere: Don’t allow these right-wing talking heads, these dishonorable people, to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are. Do what you do. And let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country.”
We know who she is talking about, who those “dishonorable people” are: Trump, Bannon, Ailes, O’Reilly, Spicer, just to name a few. We know all about the alleged rapes, assaults, sexual-harassment charges, the settled cases paid out to women who suffered at the hands of some of these men. We know about kowtowing to Russia. We know about Breitbart via Bannon having a seat at the big table. We know. They are deplorable—get in the basket.
Maxine Waters tweeted “I am a strong black woman” along with #BlackWomenAtWork, the hashtag that shot to the top Twitter’s trending list last night. A strong black woman is exactly what the O’Reillys and Spicers and Trumps fear.
Waters was born in St. Louis, the fifth child of 13 raised by a single mother. She has spent nearly 40 years in public service. Before she got to Washington D.C., she served in the California State Assembly. As assemblywoman, Waters wrote a stunning piece of legislation that led to California divesting from apartheid South Africa. Her bill came after former California governor, President Ronald Reagan—the patron saint of the GOP—vetoed a divestiture bill at the federal level. If it were a country, California would have the sixth largest economy worldwide; Waters’s bill wasn’t just for show—she has been a legend for decades.
If Trump has a poker face, Sean Spicer is his tell: The administration is terrified of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s pending testimony. Spicer’s claim he is looking forward to her testimony is the classic methodology of a 5-year-old. For example, child feels fine, feigns sickness, tells mom he just has to go to school because it is pudding day in the cafeteria, mom insists child must stay home despite his insistence he attends pudding day. Mission accomplished. Yates gets extra points here for terrifying former national security adviser Michael Flynn by proxy.
Sally Yates served ten days under Trump. She was asked by the incoming administration to stay on—in retrospect a delightful arrangement. In those ten days, she proved that no one, not even a president, is above the law. She shot down Trump’s transparent Muslim travel ban, which was the cornerstone of his campaign—it made his base salivate: Shoot brown people and terrorize women in hijab riding the subway. As Acting Attorney General, Yates immediately showed him the DOJ wouldn’t defend the order—so Trump fired her with a hand-delivered note. And that is when she became the First Patriot of the Trump Administration Resistance.
Yates has quite a feminist pedigree. She comes from Georgia where her grandmother was one of the first women admitted to the state bar. Eventually she was appointed as the first woman U.S. Attorney Office of Northern District of Georgia. She specialized in white-collar crime and political corruption (fitting). And unlike Donald Trump, Sally Yates has actually put away a terrorist. Yates was the lead prosecutor of the Atlanta Olympics Bomber trial that resulted in Eric Rudolf pleading guilty to the bombings. He is still behind bars.
Coincidentally, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions—an exemplary racist and sexist in his own right—grilled Yates during her Senate confirmation hearings. At one point Sessions asked her if she would rebuke the president if the president ran afoul of the Constitution. She said yes.
April Ryan has always been a thorn in Sean Spicer’s side and an appointment setter in the mind of President Trump. Ryan asks informed questions, pressing for answers, redirecting questions as Mr. Spicer bobs and weaves to try and dodge every last one. Truthfully, everyone in the press grates on the incredibly thin-skinned Spicer. But when a Black woman apparently disses him, to his face, at his own presser, that's too much to bear.
“Stop shaking your head,” he told Ryan after she full-court pressed him on the never-ending Trump-Russia revelations. It was a jaw-dropping moment, even by Spicer standards, a man not known for his cool. Melissa McCarthy’s spot-on SNL impression of the press secretary hit a nerve, resulting in Spicer suggesting McCarthy “dial it back”; Trump reportedly was most disturbed by Spicer portrayed by a woman.
April Ryan grew up in Baltimore where she followed in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from Morgan State College. Over her distinguished career she has interviewed presidents one-on-one: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. In 2011 she was elected to the esteemed Board of the White House Correspondents Association.
After Ms. Ryan asked her questions about Russia, she followed up with a question asking about a meeting between Condoleezza Rice and President Trump that took place earlier that day. This apparently was worse than grilling him about Russia—he promptly accused her of “having an agenda” because she asked questions about Russia and Rice back to back.
After the whole exchange, Ryan tweeted: “LAWD.”
Fortunately, Spicer sets straight all the women up in arms over his exchange with Ryan. Last night, while speaking to a radio talk-show host, Spicer said, “To suggest that somehow because of her gender or race she’d be treated differently, I think, is frankly demeaning to her.” Here again Spicer is Trump’s tell, giving it all away, with the “I know you are but what am I? strategy of a deeply racist and sexist administration.
Hillary Clinton, clad in a black-leather jacket, emerged to defend Waters and Ryan. “Now too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride … but why should we have to?” She underlined this boldly, adding, “Any woman who thinks this couldn’t be directed at her is living in a dream world.”
I can attest to this with one of my first and most innocuous “indignities” while working as a secretary in the early 1990s in Chicago: There was one older man in my office who drove me crazy—that leering old letch we have all encountered. He insisted on calling me my boss’s “girl” every time he stepped into the office. I finally told him I am no one’s girl. I don’t remember if he ever said it again. We do take these things in stride. But I am with Her, none of us should have to put up indignities because we are women of any color. The indignities and violence of racism and sexism are the motor that drive this administration—and we not only witness it, but experience it every minute of every day.