In March of 2016, then WTAE-TV news anchor Wendy Bell wrote a Facebook post on a page accessible not just to friends and fam, but fans and anyone else. In this she offered her unsolicited theories on the perpetrators of a backyard party shooting which killed five people, and for which no one had yet been arrested.
Bell posited, “They are young black men, likely in their teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested. They’ve made the circuit and nothing has scared them enough. Now they are lost. Once you kill a neighbor’s three children, two nieces, and her unborn grandson, there’s no coming back.”
Some paragraphs down, to make sure that everyone knew that she wasn’t racist, Bell wrote about another Black man, this one a bus boy she observed while she was dining with her husband at that bastion of taste, spirit, and virtue, the Cheesecake Factory. Of him, also Black, yet good!, she stated, “This child stacked heavy glass glasses 10 high and carried three teetering towers of them in one hand with plates piled high in the other. He wiped off the tables. Tended to the chairs. Got down on his hands and knees to pick up the scraps that had fallen to the floor. And he did all this with a rhythm and a step that gushed positivity. He moved like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s going to Make It.”
She additionally mentioned wondering how long it had been since someone told him he was special, and shone a spotlight on the generosity she herself displayed when she sung the young man’s praises to a cornered manager, who likely told her server that no more moscato was to flow into Bell’s glass on this particular date night.
Bell not only positioned herself as a benevolent White Savior but made sure to let us know that even while they’re cleaning up the remnants of Western omelettes and Everything flatbreads, those African American boys still sure can move! In response to this woefully problematic post that began with blatant racism and concluded with badgering someone just trying to do his motherfucking job, WTAE-TV cut bait on Bell and threw her ass back.
This firing not only gave every racist serpent in the tri-state area plenty of venom to spit into the comments of every social media platform, but Bell the opportunity to file suit for racial discrimination. Eventually the suit was settled, and a few years after she got the ax Bell moved on to her current job as a talk show host at KDKA Radio (KDKA Television wants to make sure you know that she’s not with them, so sure they’ve released a press release far and wide to clear up any potential confusion as to her association).
Here she no longer pretends to be invested in the imaginary futures of young Black service industry workers, but has reinvented herself as an acrimony fueled raging conservative, a virulent harpy with two right wings; angry, shrieking, and sputtering in a frenzy of unadulterated fury. This wrath erupted out of her distorted rictus most recently in the direction of activists, less than a week after two protesters were killed and a third wounded by a cop-idolizing child who should have never held a weapon in his sweating, shaking hands.
In a video of one radio segment she loses her fucking mind in slobbery raving, “My easy solution to the park rangers and hopefully snipers who are going to be watching for this (“this” meaning any attempts to remove or deface that which glorifies racism) is to shoot on, (here she trips over her tongue) shoot on sight (she makes her hand a gun, pops her mouth off)! Shoot! Done! No more messing with monuments, you wanna mess with a monument (her hand’s a gun again, ka-pow) done! Get out!”
On a Twitter clip in which she appears to be driving, she rails, “Hey, news flash, protesters! Get out! Go somewhere else, cause you’ve worn out your welcome. And by the way the silent majority is pissed and they’re armed and they’re ready, so don’t muck with us!”
The same woman who stationed herself as the champion of working class Black youth would now, viciously, ferociously, incite the masses to kill any who fight for their lives. What the fuck could take someone from where she was, clumsily tone-deaf but ostensibly well-intentioned, to where she is now, spewing toxicity and hate like a sewer exploding?
One possibility- the terrifying fragility of white women.
There’s a lot of different ways we can respond to criticism. If what’s been criticized merits salvaging, we can go back and carefully examine where the cracks occur in our foundation, and take action to correct them. If it’s a done deal and there’s no space for a redo, we can take the loss but still go back and throw a hard eyeball on those cracks so we can prevent them from forming next time. If that examination proves that drastic action must be taken, we can look at the adjustments that we’d need to make to be able to build successfully in the future, determine that for us the results aren’t worth the efforts necessary, and opt to pursue something else entirely.
But, if we are fragile enough, we might regard any criticism not as guidance and correction but as rejection. And our fragility might prompt us not to interpret this rejection as being of this one specific example of our abilities, this isolated and single instance of our work, but as a full and complete spurning of us a human being, everything we do and are.
And if our fragility is so monstrous that we cannot bear this perceived rebuff, we can take it to heart, blame everyone but ourselves, and rather than learn how to construct our premises better, instead strive to demolish the thing that didn’t love us enough.
This can happen with criticism of what we do and show and say as white women who profess a commitment to activism dedicated to the protection and exaltation of Black lives. And it happens when this activism isn’t for what it does for those for whom it’s supposedly intended, it’s for the pat on the head and “good girl!” we’re going to get for it. We’re not working towards a goal. We’re working towards gratification.
Wendy Bell’s racism wasn’t the confederate flag, intentional slur, spelled out in neon kind. She wasn’t acting with malice. She thought she was doing something good. Her actions weren’t diabolical, they were stupid, which in and of itself makes her neither stupid nor diabolical. But her inability to process the criticism of these actions took her ignorance from something unwitting to intentional.
She’s an extreme example of how fragility can decay us. But she’s an example of it nonetheless. Certainly not every white woman who missteps in their anti-racist, pro-Black activism is going to choose to run as fast and far away as possible. But a lot are going to sit the next one, or all the rest, out. We want so much to be right, and good, and not only to be right and good but to be praised for being right and good. And when we’re not right and good, to be allowed to slide without comment or remedy.
News flash, white protesters! It’s not about us.
If we can take anything from the sad and sorry tale of Wendy Bell, it’s to stop and see our own reflections in it. And to look at ourselves, our flaws, our egos, our sensitivities, our mortification at the molehills of our blunders that we inflate into mountainous failures. And as we gaze spellbound at these reflections, as we tell ourselves that we can’t be self-absorbed if we’re not regarding ourselves positively, as we use our victimhood as a club with which we bludgeon our purpose, learn to tear ourselves away from staring into our own eyes, and look in another direction- the one in which we’re meant to be headed.