If the Subject of Racism Doesn't Think It's Racism Does That Erase the Racism?
Last week, a news anchor named Wendy Bell was fired from her position at a local news station, ending her 18-year, Emmy-award winning career with WTAE in Pittsburgh. Bell was fired over several Facebook posts that can best be described as unctuous and clueless. They can also be described as casually (or not-so casually) racist, which is why Wendy Bell was fired.
You can read Vivian’s entire post, breaking down why those Facebook posts were racist, although I would avoid the comments because late in that thread a lot of people who don’t normally read the site came in and doubled-down on Bell’s racist comments in defending her.
It got ugly.
However, there has since been something of a “twist,” that a former longtime commenter of ours, bugdaddy has insisted on keeping us apprised of. (Bugdaddy, as is his wont, has also insisted that we haven’t covered the follow-up stories because it’s not part of the “Pajiba narrative,” which I appreciate because it suggests that we have our shit together enough to formulate a “narrative.”)
The first follow-up came in response to one of Bell’s Facebook post, in which that very nice white lady singled out an African-American guy bussing tables at a restaurant she visited as, essentially, a young black man who wasn’t like the other young black men in their community.
That whole post recalls statements from my Trump-supporting, Tea-Party mother-in-law, who likes to take managers aside and compliment “the help” when they do a good job, always referring to them as “the help.” When she does this, I like to hide under my table.
It turns out, however, that Brandon Walker — who was bussing those tables — was not offended at all. He was “thrilled” by Wendy Bell’s compliments.
“She actually took the time to notice that I was trying hard, and I appreciate that. That’s what I learned about Wendy. I feel like she notices things that other people might not take the time to.”
He added that what happened to Bell was unfortunate.
“She’s a very positive person herself. Wendy, she spoke from the heart. I believe she spoke the truth, and a lot of people didn’t want to hear it … but of course, she put it on her work Facebook page,” he said. “… The fact remains that [violence] is a problem in our community, and it needs to be addressed one way or another, and she had the courage to say what she wanted to say.”
I think the suggestion that Bugdaddy was trying to make in sending me this story is that, because Walker didn’t find the comments offensive, then no one else should, either.
Bugdaddy followed up the next day with an editorial piece from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggesting that Wendy Bell wasn’t really fired because of those Facebook posts. Rather, the station used the Facebook posts as a pretext to fire someone they could no longer afford.
Without engaging in the same kind of idle speculation that Ms. Bell did about things I don’t know about firsthand, I will say that I strongly suspect that WTAE has been looking for an opportunity to unload a popular, but expensive female anchor who has been around for nearly two decades without looking like a bunch of heartless villains. Evening news audiences are notoriously loyal and have been known to punish newscasts for making even routine changes they don’t like.
After Ms. Bell became an object of public ridicule and criticism for her March 21 Facebook post, it probably seemed as good a time as any to WTAE’s corporate owners to fire her for racial insensitivity. But instead of looking virtuous for ridding itself of a “racist,” WTAE and its corporate parent look transparently hypocritical and opportunistic.
No black person I know wanted Wendy Bell to lose her job. Certainly every black journalist knows that never saying anything stupid in one’s professional capacity is an impossibly high standard. All journalists are big believers in redemption when it comes to our own hides. That’s why I believe in second chances.
The column, from Tony Norman, is actually great piece that neither lets the news station off for firing Wendy Bell, nor Wendy Bell off for “an inappropriate and stupid move for an anchorwoman”
He’s probably not wrong, either, about the real underlying reason for Bell’s dismissal. On the other hand, I don’t think that Bell’s statements are any less clueless and casually racist simply because Brandon Walker took them as a compliment.
But, as Bugdaddy intended, I open the discussion up to our illustrious readers (in the hopes that drive-by commenters don’t spoil the discussion by, uh, deviating from the “Pajiba narrative,” which I’m pretty sure is, simply, “Don’t be a racist dickhead” ).