The War Against Black Women Under Trump Administration
In responding to comments from political strategist John Thomas about Rep. Frederica Wilson blasting President Donald Trump for telling the pregnant widow of a Sgt. La David Johnson killed in Niger that her 25-year-old husband “knew what he signed up for” Los Angeles KFI 640 host Bill Handel said, “I’m far more upset with her because that is a cheap affectation–she’s a cheap sleazy–ah–Democrat whore is what she is. Okay–no excuse me–I’m being too generous to her.”
When Thomas, to his credit, tried to correct Handel and tone down his rhetoric, Handel repeated the slur by saying, “I would add the word whore. There are a few other words I could throw in there but I want to stay working here.” That was Friday, October 20 and by the following Monday Handel’s comments had reverberated around the country. Instead of apologizing and walking back his comments, Handel double downed by repeating the slur and saying that he should have called Congresswoman Wilson a “media whore.” KFI 640, a flagship station of the iHeartMedia conglomerate formerly known as Clear Channel with 1.5 million listeners during any given weekday, has long been known for its host’s conservative points of view including disparaging remarks about women, people of color and immigrants. In 2012, the Black Media Alliance lead a campaign after two of their hosts--John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of the John and Ken Show--referred to Whitney Houston as a “crack ho” just days after her overdose death. For that, the duo received a one week suspension--a first for them in their broadcast history with KFI. But the slap on the wrist that John and Ken received happened five years ago and since then Donald Sterling lost the Clippers for his racist remarks, syndicated talk show host Rush Limbaugh came under fire after he referred to Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” for testifying on Capitol Hill about women’s access to contraception, Bill O’Reilly was ousted from Fox News, our now President Donald Trump angered a nation with by declaring that he could grab women by their private parts and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment and abuse has ushered in a new wave of women’s empowerment. During an interview on 102.3 FM KJLH with Dominique DiPrima host of the Front Page with Dominique DiPrima heard weekdays before the Steve Harvey Morning Show, Congresswoman Maxine Waters weighed in on Handel’s comments. “It’s out of control and we feel it and that’s why, you know, I organized all of the women of the Black Caucus to speak up.” Waters continued, “We think this name calling is undermining and disparaging of Black women is escalated under the leadership of this president.” Congresswoman Waters is not alone. The group Color of Change, which orchestrated the ousting of former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly has stepped up to challenge KFI about Handel’s comments. Boasting 1.2 million members, Color of Change launched a petition asking KFI’s parent company iHeartMedia Inc. to fire Bill Handel. "After exposing Trump’s appalling and disrespectful remarks to a Gold Star widow, Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed in Niger earlier this month, Rep. Wilson was repeatedly targeted by Trump and his administration," the petition states. "Emboldened by Trump, right-wing radio hosts like Bill Handel made misogynistic and degrading attacks." Christine Pelosi, Chair of the California Democratic Women’s Caucus issued a resolution on behalf of the caucus calling for Handel’s firing. “The California Democratic Party Women's Caucus unequivocally uplifts American war hero La David Johnson's family in our prayers and supports his mentor, Congresswoman Wilson, in her demand for answers about his death for our country fighting Boko Haram in Niger and we demand that iHeartRadio fire Bill Handel for his hateful, outrageous, and unacceptable insults hurled at Congresswoman Wilson and urge all to cosign the Color of Change online petition,” the resolution states. The Caucus’ Vice-Chair Carolyn Fowler added, “Those invested in white supremacy do not recognize women of color’s right to exist. Bill Handel’s vile defamatory remarks denigrating Congressmember Wilson came easy and without fear of reprisal. Do those words reflect the views and character of KFI and iHeartMedia? Only Bill Handel’s immediate dismissal is the acceptable response to their listening audience.” Dr. Maulana Karenga and Larry Aubry, Co-Chairs of the Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance (BCCLA) issued the following statement in response to Handel’s comment: The Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance (BCCLA) condemns in the strongest terms the recent racist and sexist verbal assault on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson by KFI radio host Bill Handel. Using the racist and sexist slur “whore” with various other degrading descriptives multiple times to attack Rep. Wilson, he would not correct himself or be corrected even after being challenged by a fellow host. His vulgar and vicious slur and accompanying rant, represent a pattern of practice he and others have engaged in over the years on KFI AM 640 which is in urgent need of being addressed and ended. In response to the social media clapback, “AM Joy” with Joy Ann Reid on MSNBC received a statement from KFI program director Robin Bertolucci--the first since Handel’s comments were made public. “This term should not be used on KFI in any context, in any relation to any woman, even though it was never intended to be gender specific. We want to personally apologize to anyone who may have been offended by Handel’s comments,” Bertolucci said. Back in 2012 after the Whitney Houston “crack ho” comment, the Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution asking Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) and KFI’s management to put an end to the racist and sexist slurs on its public airwaves. “It is our belief that corporate action must start at the top,” then Councilwoman Jan Perry wrote in her motion, which was seconded by the then Council’s two other African American council members, Bernard C. Parks and Herb Wesson Jr. In response Clear Channel said, they "support the LA City Council resolution regarding the need for diversity of personnel, inclusionary programming, and appropriate on-air language across all media." But just five short years later their morning drive host Bill Handel refers to a sitting member of the House of Representatives who also happens to be a Black woman as “cheap, sleazy Democrat whore.” Today former Councilwoman Jan Perry reflects on the recent situation with Handel. “The same tired, hackneyed response from this talk show host is no surprise,” Perry said. “Congresswoman Wilson is disparaged and personally attacked for doing her job while incompetence is ignored. There are probably no words to change Handel’s heart or his mind but he should not go unchecked.” Los Angeles County Democratic Party Vice-Chair Bobbie Jean Anderson said, "Given the current political climate, I am not surprised that attacks on Black people, Black women in particular, are so prevalent. I am, however, committed to standing up to all who feel emboldened by the antics of the current POTUS. Handel is a disgrace and should be held accountable by his employers for his comments and blatant racist, misogynist rants.” “Bill Handel’s racially-motivated remarks about my colleague Congresswoman Frederica Wilson were degrading and repulsive,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass. “Handel deserves to lose his job as well as any planned accolades for his reporting.” The accolades Congresswoman Bass refers to is Handel’s November 2 induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Bass continued, “I’m proud of the grassroots efforts that continue to publicize this derogatory display of on-air racism and call upon Mr. Handel to step down before he is forced to.” Bass was one of several women of the Congressional Black Caucus to publicly support Rep. Wilson in the face of growing criticism after WIlson said that in a call with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, Myeishia Johnson, President Trump did not know the fallen serviceman's name and had indicated that the soldier knew "what he signed up for." A statement signed by both Rep. Bass, Rep. Waters and other Black Congresswomen read in part: “Congresswoman Wilson is a woman of impeccable integrity and a dedicated public servant. She is a highly respected Member of Congress who has demonstrated extremely competent leadership on a number of important issues, and we are especially proud of her fearless and uncompromising leadership to fight for the release of nearly 300 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. “We were appalled by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s statements where he called Congresswoman Wilson an ‘empty barrel’ and accused her of taking credit for securing funding for a new FBI Building in Miramar, Florida that was named after two fallen FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove. A video of Congresswoman Wilson’s comments on that day has been released, and it provides indisputable proof that she never made any of the statements of which General Kelly falsely accused her. “General Kelly’s comments are reprehensible. Congresswoman Wilson’s integrity and credibility should not be challenged or undermined by such blatant lies. We, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus, proudly stand with Congresswoman Wilson and demand that General Kelly apologize to her without delay and take responsibility for his reckless and false statements.” Since Wilson’s comments about Trump she’s received death threats including an alleged threat made last week via Facebook. The post read, “Need ten good men to help carry out a lynching. Must have own horse and saddle. Rope will be provided,” and included a picture of Congresswoman Wilson. Wilson is reported to have missed at least 19 congressional votes because of the death threats. A recent NPR survey found that substantial numbers of African-Americans say they have been slurred or have been the target of insensitive or offensive comments or negative assumptions. "It isn't surprising that 45 has targeted Black women for attack,” commented human rights attorney and co-founder of of Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives Nana Gyamfi. “He's a bully and a racist. White supremacy is well aware of the powerful role Black women play in challenging its power structures, and it has historically sought to sap our power by intimidation and force. These race-baiting tactics against Black women has never worked and it isn't working now. We stay reclaiming our time.” 102.3 KJLH personality and host of the Front Page Dominique DiPrima added, “The emboldening of hate against people of color, against Black people in particular and against Black women has been encouraged under President Trump--there’s no question about it. I think if it’s allowed to escalate it becomes not just unpleasant but also dangerous. We’ve seen a rise in hate crimes and those hate crimes--at least in L.A. County--the largest rise is among gay, Black and Jewish. So what does that tell you? That’s the neo-nazi agenda being put forth and emboldened by this current administration. From Congresswoman Maxine Waters being called to task about her hairstyle to Congresswoman Wilson being called a prostitute and clowned about her clothing choices--we’re seeing a new kind of disrespect. It’s reached a new level of intensity and a new level of inappropriateness.” Veteran journalist and video producer Isidra Person-Lynn reflected, “The man in the White House has opened the floodgates when he attacks outspoken African American women like journalist April Ryan, Rep. Frederica Wilson and others--especially the southland’s own Rep. Maxine Waters. That hateful climate has exploded into a frenzy with KFI host Bill Handel calling Frederica Wilson a whore, the most derogatory term you can call any woman. Little does he know, in these black women, he’s more than met his match.” Melina Abdullah, Chair of the Pan African Studies Department at Cal State L.A. and an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter adds, “Trump's brand of extremist White supremacist sexism has been particularly injurious to Black women, who stand at the intersection of Blackness and womanhood. Trump trots out old tropes claiming Black women's ineptitude and simultaneous defiance, that not only harm Black women rhetorically and symbolically, as with the name-calling directed towards sports journalist Jemelle Hill and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, but whips up his supporters into an even more dangerous frenzy.” Dr. Abdullah then points to KFI’s Bill Handel. “Bill Handel's sickening and vile assault on Congresswoman Wilson, whom he called a whore on the air. Jemelle Hill was suspended and receives daily hate mail and even death threats as a result of Trump's targeting, though not the firing he called for. This violent assault on Black women is also paralleled by a surge in hate crimes, targeting mostly Black people. Since Trump's election there’s been a 20 percent spike this year over last--the highest increase on record according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. As a Black community and a society at large, we cannot afford to simply sit back and let this ride. This is about more than words. This is about the safety and security of Black women.” White House chief of staff John Kelly when asked recently if he needed to apologize to Rep. Wilson for she lied about securing "$20 million" in federal funding to build a new FBI field office in Miami during the dedication ceremony for the building in 2015, Kelly said no. A Sun Sentinel video of the building dedication ceremony showed that Wilson had not taken credit for the building's funding. "Oh, no. No. Never. Well, I'll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments."