For my non-Pittsburgh area friends, this blog post probably requires a little back story.
Wendy Bell is (or was, until very recently) a very popular local news anchor. Everyone knows Wendy, and through the magic of social media, we all know about her kids, her husband, and her take on family values. Lots of people love her, because they can relate to her. And everything points to Wendy Bell being a Pittsburgh mom who loves her city, loves her family and genuinely cares about the people around her.
Wendy Bell is almost certainly not a Racist.
Recently, after a devastating mass shooting that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard BBQ, Wendy took to Facebook to try to make sense of the tragedy. Read the original post here, along with more context. A lot of people read her original post and did not think there was anything wrong with it. (In fairness, even many Wendy supporters could easily see where she went wrong in that original post.) If you are one of those who didn’t see any issue, though, let me try to summarize:
1.) Making an assumption (particularly one so firmly stated as fact) that the perpetrator of a crime was a young black man is a racist conclusion. You’ll say that it is based on statistics and history, but that’s the thing about racism. If we continue to allow it, it is self-perpetuating. That’s what leads to the systemic nature of racism.
2.) Taking that a step further and making assumptions about that fictional young black man’s upbringing and back story – that he has siblings from multiple fathers, for example – is even more glaringly racist.
3.) Ending with an uplifting story about the young black man working at the restaurant and making something good of his life is not just generally condescending, but blatantly racist. That young black man might have an IQ of 150, be a student at Carnegie Mellon, and the son of two wealthy professional parents. Using one young black man as a comparison to another (let’s remember, fictional) young black man is racism.
This isn’t the first time that she’s posted something to Facebook or said something in a public forum that exposed her white privilege. Her comments on the University of Missouri’s racial tensions made me cringe several months ago (and unfortunately her social media accounts are disabled and I was unable to find the text online).
Again, I don’t think Wendy Bell is a Racist, with a capital “R”. However, I do think that she is a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege. I am also a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege. Sometimes I make assumptions and jump to conclusions in my mind that I’m ashamed of. But I work hard with every thought, word and action to fight against that ingrained racism and white privilege, and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my days. Based on Wendy’s readiness to share her thoughts with her immense audience via social media, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t recognize how that white privilege and ingrained racism impacts the way she sees the world.
I am happy to see that most Pittsburghers agree that her original post displayed (at the very least) an insensitivity to the subject of race. The division now is – Should Wendy Bell have been fired from her job at WTAE? Given that it isn’t the first time that she was forced to apologize and that this particular incident was related to one of the most horrific crimes that Pittsburgh has endured in recent memory, I don’t think the station had any other choice. She’s become too divisive to remain on the air.
I wish the best for Wendy Bell. My sincere hope is that she finds a project on race relations in Pittsburgh to which she can devote her admirable energy and share lessons on tolerance that are sorely needed in our city.