Archived: Bill O'Reilly's Racist Remark on Congresswoman's Hair Rebuked

Elected in November 2014 to her 13th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) serves as the ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News attempted to downgrade Waters’ years of political experience by making a racial joke about the style of her hair, as well as the late James Brown.

“Fox & Friends” aired a video clip on Tuesday morning of Waters’ speech on the House floor, where she spoke out against racist behavior exhibited by some of President Donald Trump’s supporters and said Trump is “dangerous for this society.”

There was a split screen showing Waters speaking and O’Reilly watching the clip. He mocked Waters by raising his fist and mouthing the words, “Right on.” And when asked his opinion of the congresswoman’s comments, O’Reilly replied: “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

The other hosts found his racial joke amusing.

“Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been a consistent, principled and vocal critic of President Trump’s actions,” Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd, an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, told DiversityInc.

“O’Reilly mocked [Waters] as she was plainly making the case for the support that African Americans have given to the fight for democracy and how criticism of the totalitarian tactics of the Trump administration is motivated by and, indeed, a sign of patriotism.”

Alexander-Floyd, who is also a lawyer and political scientist, said that the Fox News pundit’s “puerile, denigrating response is indicative of his inability to substantively respond to Congresswoman Waters’ arguments.”

“For people like O’Reilly, a Black congresswoman is read as threatening and counter to his very being,” she said.

Public outrage about O’Reilly’s comment circulated on social media Tuesday. Brittany Packett, an activist and educator, created the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork on Twitter in response to both O’Reilly’s comment, and a comment made by White House press secretarySean Spicer.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Spicer accused American Urban Radio Networks’ bureau chief and White House correspondent April Ryan of having a biased agenda. He even told her at one point to “stop shaking your head.”

Black women are using the hashtag to share experiences of racial discrimination while at the workplace.

Waters, currently a member and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, posted the following tweet Tuesday night:

The hashtag began picking up speed on Twitter.

Broadcast journalist Tamron Hall, who recently chose not to renew her contract with NBC News, tweeted:

Another broadcast journalist tweeted:

Black women also tweeted about the gender pay gap:

O’Reilly issued an apology to Waters. In a statement, he wrote: “As I have said many times, I respect Congresswoman Maxine Waters for being sincere in her beliefs. 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.”

On a broadcast of “The O’Reilly Factor” Tuesday nighthe began his segment on Waters by saying,”A liberal congresswoman attacks President Trump.”

He continued,”For years, Maxine Waters, Democrat from California, has been an outspoken left-wing voice highlighting the oppression she believes Black Americans experience.”

O’Reilly referenced the statement he made about Waters’ hair on “Fox & Friends” and then laughed through an apology.

Alexander-Floyd explained that”hair is often a signifier of cultural difference, and deriding someone’s hair and self-presentation is a well-worn diversion and act of denigration.”

“Recall, for instance, that the same thing happened to Lani Guinier, the law professor President Clinton chose as an appointee,” she said. “Headlines referenced both her hair and ideas as ‘strange.'”

On his show, O’Reilly actually addressed the content of Waters’ speech, rather than her appearance, and disagreed with much of what she said.

He ended his commentary by saying that “questioning the patriotism of others and bashing a new president isn’t patriotic; it’s useless.”

Alexander-Floyd disagrees.

“[Waters] boldly challenges the right’s claim to be the leading purveyors of patriotism, and she is quite effective in doing so,” she said.

On Tuesday night on MSNBC, Waters addressed O’Reilly’s comments about her appearance.

“When a woman stands up and speaks truth to power, there will be attempts to put her down,” she said. “And so I’m not going to be put down. I’m not going to go anywhere. I’m going to stay on the issues.”

President Trump and Fox News

To kick off Black History Month in February, Trump hosted a “listening session” for his African American supporters and administration members.

Besides sayingthatFrederick Douglass is “somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” he mentioned media outlets he considers “fake news” and then praised Fox News.

“I don’t watch CNN, so I don’t get to see as much. I don’t like watching fake news. So but Fox has treated me very nice. Wherever Fox is, thank you,” Trump said.

The same month, the president gave O’Reilly anexclusive interview in which he said he respects Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In January, O’Reilly defended Trump in a commentary segment on his show, saying the president needs to use Twitter to defend himself from media. Trump also uses Twitter to share information broadcasted on Fox News segments. Even dating back to 2013, Trump has quoted O’Reilly on Twitter:

As Trump continues to tout Fox News as his preferred news channel, O’Reilly continues his history of making racial remarks on air.

In July, O’Reilly said that slavery wasn’t really that bad for some slaves, particularly those involved in building the White House, who “were well-fed and had decent lodgings.”His assessment was in response to former First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech during the Democratic National Convention.

Fox News also has a legacy of sexism. The company recently reached a financial settlementwith former host Juliet Huddy, who claimed O’Reilly and Fox News co-President Jack Abernethy sexually harassed her.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump addressed leaked comments he made in 2005 regarding women, in which he said: “Grab them by the py. You can do anything.”

In an October presidential debate, he called the comments “locker room talk” and said his words about women do not reflect who he is as a person.

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