Short answer: Yes. Absolutely. A million times yes.
If you haven’t heard the story, a Pittsburgh news anchor named Wendy Bell was fired from her position at WTAE. She had been with the station for 18 years, but was let go after posting a lengthy piece to her now-deleted Facebook page, laying out her feelings surrounding a recent shooting in a residential East Pittsburgh neighborhood. There was a large public outcry, calling her post racist, and the station seemed to agree and released this statement:
“WTAE has ended its relationship with anchor Wendy Bell. Wendy’s recent comments on a WTAE Facebook page were inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.”
For the record, Bell has also apologized, though that apology looks to be on her Facebook page, which, again, she has deleted.
As you would expect when a person is fired for posting something racist to any social media account, that original outcry has been matched by the hordes crying “FIRST AMENDMENT,” somehow missing the fact that no one had Bell arrested or hung in the town square. Among those cries are the people who just can’t seem to find anything racist in what Bell posted in the first place. So let’s break this down. Because was what she said racist? You freaking betcha.
The original post is gone, but here it is in screenshot form. It’s lengthy, so let’s start with Screenshot #1. (Click all to embiggen.)
When I first saw that message, I didn’t realize that there was more to scroll down to, and I totally didn’t get what could be racist in there. Of course her heart hurts. That’s how all sane people feel when there is a mass shooting. When six people are killed in their backyard, or when people are shot in a mall, or a school, or a movie theatre, or ANYWHERE, we hurt.
And then I scrolled down.
Hoo boy, there’s a lot to unpack there. First of all, no, you don’t need to be a “criminal profiler” to jump to conclusions based in racial stereotypes. Now, I’m from the other side of the country, so not wanting to draw my own mental sketch of Bell’s ignorance, I turned to Google to see if she was describing actual suspects. Turns out, NOPE. No description of suspects has been released. The closest thing I could come to playing my own devil’s advocate on this was when I looked up the neighborhood’s demographics. Wilkinsburg is (at least in 2014) is 66.6% African-American in its makeup. So I suppose if you’re going to draw a mental sketch of a person walking across a street in Wilkinsburg, you might guess that person is black. But that’s the closest I can come to giving Bell the benefit of the doubt, which I’m not actually going to do. Because that’s not what she said. She didn’t equate the neighborhood with a black community, she equated mass violence with young black men. She also assumes that all of those men don’t know who their fathers are and live in squalor and okay, I’m done trying to justify anything here.
This last paragraph, screenshot #2 up there, is what most of Bell’s angry defenders are rioting against. They say that nothing in there is racist. I disagree, but it doesn’t really matter. Because there’s a third part to this that seems to be left out of a lot of the coverage of this event and hold on tight, because this story is about to squeeze into its crazy pants.
There were some major issues in the first parts of Wendy Bell’s Facebook post, but this last one is simply NOT OKAY. It is not okay for a white woman who just told us that when she hears about violence, she assumes the perpetrators are young black men, to balance that story with an anecdote about what amounts to One of the Good Ones. If Wendy Bell really feels like she needs to comment on issues in the black community (she doesn’t, though), and is compelled to offer a counter to her mental sketch, why not choose a more positive, impactful figure? If she actually feels like it’s her job here to offer up positive African-American role models (and again, IT’S NOT), how many countless examples are there to give? Does she know that our president is an African American man? But that’s just the extreme end of the spectrum. There are countless other stories Bell could have put in its place. But she chose this young man— and if he is a real person I’m sure he’s very nice and good at his job and all that. This person whom she assumes no one tells is special because WHY? Because he’s young and black and therefore must need an older white woman to come down from her perch on high to deign to validate him?
There’s a long, disgusting history of people like Wendy Bell being so effusive with their admiration for young black men, as long as those young black men are happy to get down on their hands and knees to pick up garbage, and do it with a smile and “a rhythm and a step.”
Was Wendy Bell’s statement racist? You’re goddamn right it was.