Wendy Bell is a lead anchor for WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh's ABC affiliate. I've never met her in person before, but I know many people who have. And she's generally regarded as a pleasant, kind, and professional woman.
And, like many otherwise pleasant, kind, and professional White people, Wendy Bell is utterly clueless about race, White privilege, and how her privilege contributes to her tone deaf myopia in regards to race. This was made clear earlier this week, when the anchor took to Facebook to share her thoughts about the massacre in Wilkinsburg.
Now, before I continue, I want to note that what I'm doing today isn't coming from a place of outrage. I am more exhausted and sobered by this than angry or offended. I do not wish for Bell to be fired. Plus, if possessing White privilege and existing unaware of that possession was just cause for termination, the White unemployment rate would be 394%. America has a unique talent for mass producing Wendy Bells like they were sheet metals or hot dog buns. Instead, I'm just using her words to articulate how virulent (and damn annoying) this particular strain of back-pattingly well-meaning Whiteness can be.
***Also, after receiving criticism for her post, Bell edited it. What exists on her Facebook page now is not what was initially published. This piece, however, will reference the original.***
Next to "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times," I remember my mom most often saying to my sister and me when we were young and constantly fighting, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Bell begins her post with a reminder of how grounded and steeped in working class sensibilities she happens to be. Leading with this type of paragraph is a common and relatively harmless linguistic ploy writers often use to communicate their connections to their target audience. It's saying "I might be a fancy news anchor now, but I'm a soccer mom just like you at heart" without actually saying it.
I've really had nothing nice to say these past 11 days and so this page has been quiet. There's no nice words to write when a coward holding an AK-47 hoses down a family and their friends sharing laughs and a mild evening on a back porch in Wilkinsburg. There's no kind words when 6 people are murdered. When their children have to hide for cover and then emerge from the frightened shadows to find their mother's face blown off or their father's twisted body leaking blood into the dirt from all the bullet holes.
I find it hard to believe that nothing nice worth talking about has happened in the 11 days between the murders and Bell deciding to write about them. But I'll take her word for it and picture a sad and sullen Wendy Bell at a Starbucks in Sewickley last week — teary-eyed, tense, and teetering on the edge of a panic attack — as a barista asks for her order and she replies "I…just. I…just. I just can't."
Also, "frightened shadows," "mother's face blow off," and "father's twisted body leaking blood into the dirt from all the bullet holes" is some Grade A top-notch misery porn.
There's just been nothing nice to say. And I've been dragging around this feeling like a cold I can't shake that rattles in my chest each time I breathe and makes my temples throb. I don't want to hurt anymore. I'm tired of hurting.
Not even 100 words in and she's already making it about herself. Her pain. Her agony. Her anxiety. This isn't about the murders. It's about how the murders are making her, well-meaning White lady, feel. And she just can't take it anymore. All of these feelings. That she feels.
You needn't be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. I will tell you they live within 5 miles of Franklin Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard and have been hiding out since in a home likely much closer to that backyard patio than anyone thinks. They are young black men, likely 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. There's nothing nice to say about that.
There are so many things here to unpack that I don't where to begin. Instead, I'll just list some of the things Bell either implies or just outright says here.
1. Although she's a news anchor, Bell apparently moonlights as Sherlock fucking Holmes.
2. Along with being Sherlock fucking Holmes, she's Sigmund fucking Freud.
3. Although the police are combing through the entire state looking for the people responsible for this, Wendy Bell says the shooters are just hiding in a closet in an apartment across the street. If any Pittsburgh-area police officers are reading this, why haven't you looked in the closets across the street? If Wendy "Sherlock fucking Holmes" Bell can solve this crime, why can't you?
4. Maybe we don't know who killed these people. But we do know their mommas are some broke Black hoes. If you round up all the broke Black hoes in Wilkinsburg — all the women with multiple jobs and multiple baby daddies — you'll find the people who did this.
There are so many layers and layers and layers to Bell's abject obliviousness to how racist this is; all made clear by the fact that she thought it was fine to print it. She's practically a White privilege lasagna caught in the throat of a White privilege turducken.
But there is HOPE. And Joe and I caught a glimpse of it Saturday night. A young, African American teen hustling like nobody's business at a restaurant we took the boys to over at the Southside Works. 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.
Oh boy. This paragraph is so perfect — so emblematically, contextually, problematically, and specifically Privileged Ass White American — that I want to kiss it. I want to take it out for a nice seafood dinner and never call it again. I would drink this paragraph's daddy's bathwater. With a straw.
Seriously, read this scribbled-on-some-toilet-paper-at-a-Hallmark-factory-bathroom bullshit again. And think about the state of mind that allows someone to juxtapose that awful tragedy with a night at the Cheesecake Factory. As if there's any connection between the two besides the race of the server and the race of the victims. And, I don't know, the fact that they're both made out of space dust.
Also, let's take a moment to think about this poor server boy. Who was probably just trying to do his job while wondering why this weird White woman kept smiling at him all night long. But, if he happens to read this, he now knows that that weird White woman pictured him as some post-racial savior fantasy melange of Sammy Davis Jr., Stepin Fetchit, and Calvin from the McDonald's commercials.
When Joe paid the bill, I asked to see the manager. He came over to our table apprehensively and I told him that that young man was the best thing his restaurant had going. The manager beamed and agreed that his young employee was special. As the boys and we put on our coats and started walking out — I saw the manager put his arm around that child's shoulder and pat him on the back in congratulation. It will be some time before I forget the smile that beamed across that young worker's face — or the look in his eyes as we caught each other's gaze. I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.
If that Black boy wouldn't have met that back-pattingly well-meaning White lady, he might have ended up a murderer with a broke-ass Black mom hiding in a closet in the same house he just murdered eight people in. Now, though, he has a future. A bright future. A future so bright it's practically White. All due to Wendy Bell. Who needs Walker, Texas Ranger when Pittsburgh has Wendy Bell, Professional White Woman?
There's someone in your life today — a stranger you're going to come across — who could really use that. A hand up. A warm word. Encouragement. Direction. Kindness. A Chance. We can't change what's already happened, but we can be a part of what's on the way. Speak up. Reach out. Dare to Care. Give part of You to someone else. That, my friends, can change someone's course. And then — just maybe THEN — I'll start feeling again like there's something nice to say.
Naturally, Bell ends her screed — which, again, began with the death of devastation of numerous families — by making it about herself, again. If we ever want Wendy Bell to feel good enough to bless the world with her delicious thoughts, we Must Be Better. We Have to Be Kind to Each other. We each Have the Power to Change the World, but Only if We Randomly capitalize words In our Sentences. Then, and only Then, will Wendy Bell open her beautiful White mouth and Bless us with what escapes From It.