California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters has seen tumultuous times. A staple of Golden State politics since 1991, she’s witnessed the Rodney King riots and O.J. Simpson trial roil her district.
Now, she facing a different kind of challenge. This time, on the national stage, in the age of the Internet. Online trolls, right-wing activists and the president have placed Waters at the racist and sexist crosshairs of their hatred.
On Tuesday, Waters’s offices were evacuated after the discovery of a suspicious package. The label said it was addressed to “Anne Thrax.” The Los Angeles Police Department later determined that the package had no dangerous substances and are investigating.
This isn’t the first time Waters was the target of a threat. Last year, a man was arrested for leaving death threats against Maxine Waters.
While President Trump’s targets change frequently, Waters has become a mainstay in his rotation. It’s no coincidence that he often goes after women, but because Waters is a black woman, his attacks inherit our nation’s history of racism against black women.
That space where misogyny and racism combine is known as misogynoir. Coined by Moya Bailey, misogynoir is the name behind the hatred that causes black women to be attacked over their white counterparts.
By fixating on her “low I.Q.” and threatening her to “be careful” over what she wishes for, Trump is also using misogynoir to tap into the historical violence against black women in this country. In trying to exclude Waters’s voice from the political discourse, Trump uses the historical exclusion of black people from politics by implying she isn’t fit for her job.
Despite the scare tactics, Waters has become a progressive hero for her no-nonsense approach to Trump. She actively spoke out against his campaign and sat out his inauguration. She unintentionally coined the phrase "reclaiming my time” after cutting off Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s at a hearing. Last year, after Bill O’Reilly insulted her hair, she told MSNBC, “Let me just say this: I’m a strong black woman, and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O’Reilly or anybody.”
Waters was forced to cancel a public appearance at the annual conference of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women because of a credible threat against her life. Trump had accused Waters of instigating violence against his cabinet and the congresswoman held a press conference to explain she had done no such thing. Trump has called Waters “low I.Q.” before but has never explained why he lobbies that particular insult at her consistently.
Targeting her with such regularity makes her a bigger target for Trump supporters.
This week, Trump once again said that Waters has a “low I.Q.,” and singled her out over he thought was her lack of support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was just another racist remark from the man who started his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and conflating MS-13 with all immigrants to the country. Over the weekend, Waters had criticized Trump and called him “Putin’s Apprentice.”
The scary thing isn’t that Trump has been making these racist comments, but that he hasn’t faced any consequences for peddling racist and sexist rhetoric while in office. It shouldn’t just be up to black women like Waters to fight that hatred alone. This is a cultural and societal issue that needs to be examined beyond how Trump talks about Waters. He’s far from the only one to resort to misogynoir.