In recent weeks, rapper French Montana and Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly have taken racist shots at black women’s hair. This type of behavior has been going on for far too long.
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
That famous Malcolm X quote found new life via Beyoncé’s memorable sampling of the speech on her acclaimed 2016 album Lemonade. That album was largely an expression of the pain and triumph found in black womanhood, a beautifully creative signpost for what we should see evidence of every day. I witness the brilliance of black women constantly: from scholarly critique to unbridled creativity. I’ve also witnessed the brutal way we use words to subjugate and spiritually crush black women. I thought about that repeatedly after a Twitter controversy from earlier this week.
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Rapper French Montana attacked a black woman on Twitter after she’d tweeted dismissively about him. “The fact that French Montana thinks anyone cares about him,” she tweeted. Her words weren’t directed at the rapper, he wasn’t
-ed in her tweet. She was just one of several people who’d tweeted something anti-French Montana. But for whatever reason, the rapper decided to lash out viciously at this particular tweet.
“U musty crusty dusty rusty ass hoe,” Montana tweeted in response. “With them nappy ass poetic justice braids take your cum drinking Dick banging ass somewhere n be humble.”
Montana’s offensively over-the-top response to a lukewarm tweet was just the latest in a string of incidents over the past couple of months involving celebrities publicly disparaging black women. The incidents reflect a specific sort of racism. One of the most notable came when controversial Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly appeared on the talk show Fox and Friends in March and was asked about Rep. Maxine Waters’ recent speech lambasting Donald Trump.
“We fight against this president and we point out how dangerous he is,” Waters said on the floor of Congress. “We’re fighting for democracy. We’re fighting for America. We’re saying to those who say they’re patriotic, but they turn a blind eye to the destruction he is about to cause to this country. You are not nearly as patriotic as we are.”
When asked for his thoughts, O’Reilly decided to mock Rep. Waters’ hair.
“I didn’t hear a word she said,” O’Reilly said as the show’s co-hosts sat laughing. “I was looking at the James Brown wig.” Fox and Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt interjected, “You can’t go after a woman’s looks. I think she’s very attractive.” Rep. Waters scoffed at O’Reilly’s disrespectful “joke.” “I am a strong black woman,” she tweeted after the moment began making media rounds. “I cannot be intimidated, and I’m not going anywhere #BlackWomenAtWork.” After being roundly criticized, O’Reilly apologized.
“As I have said many times, I respect Congresswoman Maxine Waters for being sincere in her beliefs,” O’Reilly said in a statement. “I said that again today on ‘Fox & Friends’ calling her ‘old school.’ Unfortunately, I also made a jest about her hair which was dumb. I apologize.”
And there were other recent controversies in a similar vein. Comedian George Lopez lashed out at a biracial woman in the audience at his show in Arizona back in February.
“There are only two rules in the Latino family,” Lopez joked. “Don’t marry somebody black and don’t park in front of our house.”
A woman appeared to give Lopez the middle finger in response to his joke, which enraged the comedian.
“I’m talking, bitch!” Lopez shouted. “You paid to see a show, sit your ass down. You can’t take a joke, you’re in the wrong motherfucking place. Sit your ass down or get the fuck out of here.” Lopez kept railing at the woman as the crowd applauded. “I’ll give you two choices: Shut the fuck up or get the fuck out. I tell you what, I’ll make the choice for you. Get the fuck out of here. I’ll make the choice for you, bye. You can’t take a joke you’re in the wrong motherfucking place. Bye. Four seats just opened up front.” I observed all of these incidents and thought about how they all featured non-black men attacking black women in the same ways that black women have been berated for years: for being “ugly,” for their hair, for being “loud.” I thought about how often I see black women being attacked on social media with these exact same kinds of insults. It’s sadly common for a woman to be hit with insults about her appearance; but black women have been historically mocked and marginalized for physical traits specific to black womanhood, and they’ve been routinely vilified for perceived negative behaviors that are fairly universal. That’s simply misogyny and racism. And no one can pretend that these sorts of attacks only come from non-black men. From the radio to my social media timeline, I see variations of contempt for black women all-too-regularly. And sometimes it hits closer to home than I like to face. There have been times when I know I’ve talked over or talked down to black women who were more accomplished, more astute and obviously more patient than I. It’s something that I didn’t want to believe applied to me, but reflecting on some of the worst social media exchanges I’ve had over the years, more than a few happened because I was felt obligated to “correct” a black woman on her own perspective—or because I refused to take what she was saying seriously. As I sat down to write this, prepared to wag a sanctimonious finger at French Montana, I had to look at myself. And I also had to think about how many conversations I’ve had with male friends who felt they’d been “emasculated” just because they were publicly criticized or reprimanded by a black woman. How often are we the enablers, or worse, endorsers of what others have done—and continue to do—to black women?
After a social media backlash and justified criticism, French Montana tried to explain the situation and offered that, despite calling a black woman “nappy” headed, he has no issue with black women.
“My son is black, and I was born in africa I lived there for 13 years,” he tweeted. “I ain’t no punching bag, and I don’t discriminate! don’t come for me.”
“My mother is african queen and I was married to a beautiful black queen. All I did was defend myself if I affended anybody I apologize,” he continued, before adding, “But this is a perfect example of even when u defending yourself and minding your Business social media would drag your name thru the mud.”
Calling a black woman a “queen” when you apologize doesn’t mean much—would you call her a “bitch” if she doesn’t accept your apology? Asking for a friend.
It’s interesting what we perceive as an attack and even more interesting how we respond to one. In this case, Montana lashed out at someone who didn’t even antagonize him directly. And he ignored countless men who undoubtedly would have shown up in a Twitter search for his name—which it appears French was doing. But French didn’t utter a word in response to those men, while this black woman got verbally blasted with both barrels for what was a fairly lightweight dismissal. The fact that I saw so many men come to French’s defense confirms that so many build their masculinity on asserting dominance over women. And any perceived “insult” is a threat to that dominance and should be snuffed out with a ruthless intensity.
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Of course, none of these observations are new or news. Black women have been scholarly examining toxic masculinity for decades. And rapper misogyny has been thinkpieced ad nauseum at this point—that misogyny is a reflection of some of the more dysfunctional aspects of American culture, and those aspects are a lot more prevalent in our society than we often want to believe. Bill O’Reilly and George Lopez aren’t rappers, but they showed just as much contempt for black women as French Montana has. Offering empty apologies for offending someone only suggests that you feel guilty for having made people feel bad; it doesn’t mean you’ve learned or grown in any way.