Tuesday on Fox & Friends, Bill O’Reilly said that he “didn’t hear a word” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said because he was “looking at her James Brown wig.”
“If we have a picture of James, it’s the same wig,” O’Reilly continues.
“It’s the same one,” co-host Brian Kilmeade replies.
Waters, a Congress member and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke Monday night on the House floor about the patriotic obligation to protest against President Trump’s policies, which she describes as “destruction he’s about to cause this country.” Her remarks were replayed Tuesday on Fox & Friends.
“When we fight against this president, and we point out how dangerous he is for this society and for this country, we’re fighting for the democracy,” Waters says in the recording.
On a split screen, to the left of the video as it plays, O’Reilly can be seen mocking her, mouthing a chant. After her remarks played, O’Reilly was asked what they meant, at which point he ridiculed her appearance.
It’s well established that women are judged more harshly on their appearance than men are, as Kelsey McKinney wrote for Vox. Research has proven this phenomenon generally, as McKinney points out, and has also explored the ways it impacts black women in particular. O’Reilly’s comments are part of a centuries-long history of devaluing black women for their appearance. As Susan L. Bryant wrote for the Columbia Social Work Review, black women, who tend to “deviate furthest from European beauty standards,” face disproportionate levels of internal negative feelings. Black women also encounter a specific type of racial and sexist hostility known as misogynoir, a term coined by Moya Bailey of Northeastern University to pinpoint this exact sort of discrimination.
While Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade joined O’Reilly in piling onto the offensive comments, co-host Ainsley Earhardt came to Waters’s defense: “I have to defend her on that. You can’t go after a woman’s looks,” she says. But then she adds, “I think she’s very attractive.” She did not address the content of Waters’s speech.
“I didn’t say she wasn’t attractive,” O’Reilly replies. “I love James Brown. But it’s the same hair James Brown — the godfather of soul — had!”
“So he had girl hair?” Earhardt asks, grinning. So much for solidarity.
At the end of the segment, O’Reilly describes Waters as a “sincere individual,” and says, “I love you, Maxine. I want to see you on The Factor,” his program on Fox News. “And when hell freezes over, I’m sure that’ll happen,” he adds.
By Tuesday afternoon, O’Reilly had apologized for the remarks: “As I have said many times, I respect Congresswoman Maxine Waters for being sincere in her beliefs,” he said, according to Variety. “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.”
Correction: The original article misattributed a quote to Steve Doocy. It was Brian Kilmeade who said “It’s the same one.”