I’m a young, Black female journalist who’s still in college and in 3 days the President of the United States verbally assaulted 3 credentialed Black female journalists by calling the questions of Abby Phillip, and Yamiche Alcindor “stupid” and “racist” and characterizing April Ryan as “nasty” and “hostile.”
(This is heavy and feels personal. I need a moment.)
First, these seasoned professionals were seeking clarity on topics that every American is wondering about: what’s the president’s position on nationalism? What is he hoping that the acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker will do about Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election? Does he believe there was voter suppression occuring during the 2018 midterm elections?
But even with the weight of these pertinent questions, and 45’s subsequent response, it’s no secret that the freedom of the press is under attack by the current Commander and Chief who repeatedly refers to journalists as “the enemy of the people.” This refrain is historically rooted in dictatorial, authoritative governments and was basically the catch phrase of Joseph Stalin during his regime. The irony of an entity— in this case the press— being tasked with holding spectors of powers accountable and then berated because of asking challenging questions creates and sustains a cycle of toxicity where this myth of the press as an enemy is accepted.
(If only the first amendment was protected as much as the second is strongly kept in a “keep-me-safe box while mass shootings happen nearly every week at this point.)
The fact that the current president is surfacing and encouraging a misconstrued image of the media is, at best, the worst thing that he could do. Especially since he seems keen on using Black women as his spawns to (re)control everything except his pathological lying, which is the only issue facing this country that he doesn’t seem to think is a problem.
Since Black Panther released in February, 2018 has been the year for the Black community: We got BlacKkKlansmen, The Carters’ On The Run II Tour, Sterling K. Brown winning awards and representing for the culture on a white show, reelectified voting energy that now has Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum on the brink of winning two historic elections and next week, Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” hits the bookshelves. Such a momentous 11 months really does confront reality as we know it while usurping it for the life we want to live, the change we want to see, and the people we want to see making it.
(I suppose if I was a unethical white man, I too would be afraid of seeing an even playing field on the horizon for the first time in my life.)
Out of… resentment? insecurity? fear? the mere essence of living and existing, the president has charged himself with the responsibility to put journalists back in their place in hopes of repositioning the country as well. His rationale seems to be that if he can keep the media in line, everything else will fall behind into a neat, single file. The way he’s been able to manipulate, spin and lie through stories, subdue one and introduce another likens his relationship with the press to a puppet and it’s master. For example, right before midterms, the biggest story was the dangerous “invasion” by a migrant caravan trying to enter the country from Mexico. It must have disappeared into thin air now that elections are over. Gee, the timing is uncanny.
So attacking Black women journalists is yet another string pulled to realign the current temperature of the country with his racism and sexism. Go figure. An attack and warning to the country because, as famed Zora Neale Hurston once said, Black women are “the mule of the world.” Meaning, we are the means of transportation to everyone else’s destination, only to be trapped in the state of transit ourselves. So here Phillip, Alcindor and Ryan are taking the brunt of the president’s wrath for the entire country while having their professionalism and character antagonized. It is a tactic to target the pole that the country is tethered to in hopes that if it collapses… if it gives in, there, too, is everybody and their mama and the whole system with them.
What’s even worse is that Black women have always functioned like a staple for the United States: we keep everything together by way of puncturing and folding into ourselves at the same time. So while Twitter has rallied around The Three Queens, both Black women as well as other journalists and supporters, it simply does not equate to what was already sacrificed in the moment of hurling insults: respect.
And in essence, that is what every action, lie, and poked-out orange face has boiled down to: I will not respect you because I do not have to. The epitome of white privilege.
As a young journalist entering the field, this can be a shivery sentiment as I embark on my green career. I am frustrated that an unequipped, incompetent president can set the template of behavior for the rest of the country and refuse to act like any reasonable adult. I am disturbed that his absurd, racist rhetoric has not only been tolerated, but also repeated, as recent as this last election cycle, on winning political platforms. I am alarmed that, amazingly, folks are already speaking of a 2020 campaign for him.
Which leaves me with only one option— keep on keeping on.
The more the puppet master squirms for new combinations to move the same puppet, there are more journalists who interrogate his positions and, thankfully, keep him accountable so that we don’t go to a complete dictatorship. This isn’t enough for everything to be well, but it certainly helps me sleep at night.