Bill O’Reilly fucked up on Tuesday. Hearing him insert himself into political conversations with compulsory, racist commentary is not uncommon. But his offensive remarks about Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) hair were a new low for Fox News’ most polarizing conservative pundit.
Commenting on Waters’ appearance on the House floor Tuesday—during which she called challenging the president an act of patriotism—O’Reilly told Fox & Friends, “I didn't hear a word [Waters] said. I was looking at the James Brown wig. If we have a picture of James, it's the same wig.”
Later apologizing for the remarks, O’Reilly released a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, saying, “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.”
But once again, O’Reilly missed the mark with foul commentary about the congresswoman’s looks rather than addressing her powerful remarks on what it means to be an American patriot head-on .
“We have suffered discrimination. We have suffered isolation and undermining,” Waters said. “But we stand up for America, oftentimes when others who think they are more patriotic, who say they are more patriotic, do not.”
Waters being who she is—a woman roundly celebrated for her steadfast refusal to acquiesce to problematic political agendas—later delivered a widely circulated clap-back to O’Reilly’s remarks. “Let me just say this: I'm a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated,” she said on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes. “I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O'Reilly or anybody.”
And it’s true. If O’Reilly got anything right during his appearance on Fox & Friends, it was rightly telling the show’s hosts, “Whatever she says, she believes. She's not a phony, and that's old school.” While that's clearly backpedaling on the disparaging remarks he’d made just moments prior, O’Reilly is correct. Waters is no political puppet, and she’s been an unrelenting advocate for women and children, people of color, and other socioeconomically and -politically marginalized groups. Indeed, her track record would serve to prove she’s more of a patriot than O’Reilly has ever been.
Waters Has Long Demanded Her Voice Be Heard
Congresswoman Waters had already entered the national consciousness by 1992, when riots erupted in Los Angeles following the acquittal of three police officers who’d been involved in the beating of Rodney King. Focused on the national civil unrest that had been unfolding in cities across the United States, Waters appealed for resources while positioning herself as a voice for the people.
Then-President George Bush called a meeting with Congressional leaders and Cabinet members to address the country’s tumultuous political climate. Upon learning of the meeting—and indeed, that she wasn’t asked to be part of it—Waters showed up and demanded to be heard.
“I've been out here trying to define these issues,” Waters recalled saying, according to the New York Times. “I don't intend to be excluded or dismissed. We have an awful lot to say.”
She Has Never Tolerated Sexist Rhetoric in Washington
There’s no shortage of evidence that Waters’ advocacy for women has spanned her political career. One particularly memorable instance happened on the House floor in 1994. Following a prior controversy with Representative Peter King (R-NY)—he had allegedly been rude during the questioning a female White House aide during a hearing the night before—Waters stormed the floor and stated, “Men and women, the day is over when men can badger and intimidate women!”
I mean, look at this:
To date, this is the only example since the event where the Mace of the House of Representatives—a tactic used to restore order—has been threatened to be employed as a disciplinary action. Because she had refused to stop speaking, Waters was suspended from the House for the rest of the day.
She Doesn’t Stand for the Racist Bullshit, Either
Far from the first time a Fox News personality has come after Waters for her criticisms of ill-willed or poorly run government offices, O’Reilly is merely the most visible (and recent) in a time when social media works as a loudspeaker for combating bigotry.
Back in 2012, Waters blasted current Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) as “demons” who are “destroying this country.” At the time, Waters had been harshly criticizing big banks and Republican leaders who were, in her eyes, failing the American people.
Commenting on the video clip, Fox News commentator Eric Bolling had a message for both his viewers as well as Waters. “Congresswoman, you saw what happened to Whitney Houston. Step away from the crack pipe, step away from the Xanax, step away from the Lorazepam because it’s going to get you in trouble.”
The racialized language here is self-evident, and this example stands to prove that Waters has endured all measure of sexism and racism for standing firmly for the best interests of the people.
Waters Is a Leader in Advocacy for HIV/AIDS Programs
Waters has continuously been a national leader in advocacy for programs specifically geared at addressing the spread of HIV and AIDS among minority communities. Over the course of her career, Waters has been instrumental in developing the Minority AIDS Initiative in 1998, managing to increase its funding from $156 million in 1999 to nearly $400 million today.
If all of this doesn't make it perfectly clear, let us reiterate: Maxine Waters is greater American patriot and defender of freedom than Bill O'Reilly could ever hope to be.
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