“I didn't hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”
FOX’s Bill O’Reilly made a statement that was thoughtless and mean-spirited about Congresswoman Maxine Waters (Note: He has since apologized). Make no mistake about that. While I don’t take the full knee-jerking position, I will say he didn’t need to hit Congresswoman Waters with an insult about her hair when there is enough to address about her that has nothing to do with her physical appearance. There isn’t much I agree with O’Reilly on, but I do think that Congresswoman Waters should have her own sitcom. She’s made many outlandish, moronic statements over the years that are more fit for a parody of elected officials than the rhetoric of one who is serious about representing constituents. I’ll even go as far as to say that I don’t think his comments were racist, despite many opinion and news outlets manufacturing it by mentioning Congresswoman Waters is African-American. The fact is that O’Reilly and his ilk in infotainment news have made a career out of potshots and negativity. Whether it’s Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, O’Reilly, or Sean Hannity, why do we consistently hold our hands over our mouths and feign surprise when they go for low blows?
On the other hand, Congresswoman Waters isn’t intimidated or frightened of O’Reilly, conservative media, or anyone else. The real insult is that she has made an entire career out of feeding spite to her “enemies” and helping herself to taxpayer money rather than fighting for the constituents she represents. These folks are still hurting due to last decade's recession, crime at the hands of gangs (due to police departments and officers fearing racial discrimination suits and sanctuary governments protecting known criminals), and efforts to push many of her electorate into a neighboring county due to economic collapse and gentrification. While she doesn’t deserve to be attacked because of her looks, let’s not act as if she needs the kid glove treatment. Calling her fellow legislators “demons,” telling a large group of concerned Americans that she intends to help them go “straight to hell” while she orates more empty promises and divisive rhetoric doesn’t make Congresswoman Waters a very sympathetic character. And if she isn’t “afraid of anybody,” why are people so quick to go to bat for her? She can clearly fight her own battles.
Speaking of James Brown wigs, many of the usual suspects aghast at O’Reilly’s cheap shots were roasting FOX Sports’ Pam Oliver and her personal appearance for some NFL Playoff games a few years back. Her wigs were disheveled, looked cheap, and the director either cut to Erin Andrews or showed shots of the crowd and the benches while Oliver was speaking. Those usual suspects were laughing, retweeting memes, and applauding the takedown of a woman who probably just had a few bad days and certainly didn’t deserve such malignant criticism.
We only insult or criticize others’ personal appearances when we’ve run out of gas and have nothing more clever to say. We only complain about someone going too far in personal attacks when we support them for personal agendas, political capital, and/or we see part of ourselves in the person that was attacked. Personal attacks should always be condemned, no matter who said them or who was targeted. But try telling that to anyone in any corner of this hyper-partisan climate, and you’re likely to be shot down as a bigot or a knee-jerker. The hypocrisy.
Being mean-spirited is not something that social media or the current political climate created. Most of us have it ingrained in us; it’s part of our competitive nature as human beings. The insatiable need to criticize others is something that we can curb, but cannot outright cure. I’ve said many things before that were mean-spirited (be it provoked, out of jealousy, or humor at someone else’s expense). I'll likely slip up, intentional or not. And many things I say I deeply regret in retrospect. But the way we can do better is not to not police what others say; it’s to change what we say and what we do to set the tone. In doing so, we clear our own conscience of negativity.