In 1991, President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas for the seat of retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. During his confirmation hearings, Anita Hill was called to testify and claimed that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor. Even with credible testimony, a polygraph test that backed up her claims and other witnesses to support Hill’s credibility, people didn’t believe Anita Hill. I remember watching the hearings and admiring the courage of this woman to come forward despite the backlash and I also remember how heartbroken I was that people didn’t believe her including prominent Democrats like then Senator Joe Biden.
It’s been 26 years since the Thomas hearings and it feels like not much has changed. Black women are still trying to get their voices heard and to be believed. The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and white woman after white woman came out and said #MeToo, but Weinstein didn’t respond until Lupita Nyong’o came out to tell her story and now we are having a debate on whether Lupita’s story is true.
Donald Trump has a long documented history of flat-out lying, like his claims that Muslims were cheering in New Jersey on 9/11 or that he had proof that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. He has a long, documented history of saying inappropriate comments at inappropriate times like telling struggling victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico that they were busting his budget or that Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of whatever. And yet, people still didn’t believe Representative Frederica Wilson’s claims that Donald Trump made an insensitive comment to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband was killed in an ambush in Niger.
Rep. Wilson was the principal of the school that Johnson’s father attended. Her program, 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, mentored Sergeant Johnson and his brothers. The family was so close to Rep. Wilson that she was in the car with them as they went to meet the remains of Sergeant Johnson at Dover, AFB. And yet, people didn’t believe her. They didn’t believe Sergeant Johnson’s mother who backed up her claims. Even after hearing the words from Myeisha Johnson in an interview she gave to George Stephanopoulos, people still don’t believe her claims. They didn’t believe this African American widow even as they claim that Gold Star families are sacred.
It has been amazing to watch how quickly these black women have been thrown under the bus. Trump came out immediately and tweeted that Rep. Wilson was lying and he had the proof. Then Sarah Hucklebee Sanders came out and admitted no proof existed but still Wilson was lying. Then General John Kelly came out that he counseled Trump to say that the Sargent knew what he signed up for but Rep. Wilson misinterpreted Trump’s comments. He even made the claim that Representative Wilson was “eaves dropping” and she was an “empty barrel.”
Still pundits from the left and the right have come out to applaud General Kelly’s press conference. Chris Matthews called Kelly “presidential,” despite the fact that Kelly lied about Rep. Wilson’s record. The pundits on Morning Joe were performing such feats of mental gymnastics to find positive things to say about General Kelly’s press conference, I kept waiting for a judge from Romania to popup with a sign giving them a ‘10.’ It took another black woman, Yamiche Alcindor, reporter with the New York Times, to address the elephant in the room: General Kelly confirmed Wilson’s account of the phone call and he flat out lied about Representative Wilson’s speech at a dedication ceremony of an FBI building.
Twenty-six years since the Hill testimony and I still believe Anita Hill. I believe Lupita. I believe Myeisha Johnson and I believe Frederica Wilson. I believe these black women. I applaud them for their bravery in speaking up despite the backlash and, in Rep. Wilson’s case, death threats. The women of the Congressional Black Caucus created a petition demanding that General Kelly apologize, but what about the rest of the members? What about the rest of the congress who work side-by-side with Rep. Wilson? Where are their voices? We need to stand together in this fight, not just black women, but all women. Unless we stand for something, we will fall for anything.