“Megyn Kelly said something really racist,” should not be a surprising sentence to anyone.
After defending blackface, she is reportedly on her way out of the Today show, where she anchors the third hour, and perhaps of NBC altogether. But the original sin was that Kelly was hired by NBC at all.
Kelly had a long track record of racial demagoguery at Fox News before she ever set foot in the NBC studios. It would be different if she had come to terms with her own racial animus and worked to overcome it and make amends with the communities she had harmed. But NBC hired an unrepentant Kelly, who spoke with pride of all her work at Fox News.
One of my craziest on-air experiences debating a conservative — a very high bar — involved Kelly yelling at me on live television for nearly 10 minutes for disagreeing that the “New Black Panthers” were a threat to Good People Everywhere.
In another instance, there was an off-air disagreement about her show using a caption referring to Michelle Obama as “Obama’s Baby Mama.” Kelly was outraged when I told her it was racist, passing it off as a stupid joke by a junior staffer for which Fox News apologized. I didn’t get the joke.
One racist claim after another in Kelly's past
We moved past these disagreements, and overall I found her to be a smart and lively sparring partner during my time at Fox News. But as the years passed, it became clear that my experiences with her were not one-offs.
Kelly has made one racist claim after another: Jesus was white, Santa is white, a black teenager in a bathing suit pinned to the ground by a police officer was “no saint,” Sandra Bland would be alive if she had just complied with police orders. Kelly dismissed a Department of Justice report finding racial bias in the police department at Ferguson, Missouri, arguing that "there are very few companies in America (where) you won't find racist emails."
Racist ex-cop Mark Fuhrman was brought on regularly to analyze racial issues and police brutality cases, where the two commiserated about the so-called anti-cop biases of people outraged over police killing unarmed black men. Kelly asserted that the black community suffered from a “thug mentality” where “it's cool to sort of hate the cops, and hang out — and be somebody who doesn't necessarily prize being there for your family." When first lady Michelle Obama talked about the toll of discrimination against black people in a commencement speech, Kelly argued that her speech played into a "culture of victimization." "I call it cupcake nation," she said.
Fast forward to this week, when Kelly said blackface was fine on Halloween. This time she apologized for her racist comments. But what about all the times people of color were crying out for apologies and accountability from Kelly and were ignored?
Her meteoric rise could not have happened without the complicity of a system that is far too comfortable with racism, especially when it comes in a pretty white package. Her history of racist comments was quite literally whitewashed from fawning profiles in women’s magazines and other mainstream publications by white journalists.
White women journalists were some of the worst offenders, hailing her as a kind of feminist hero, when she herself rejected the adjective. But even had she owned it, it shouldn't have mattered. "You can't be a true feminist and be a racist," author Austin Channing Brown told me. "Because you have to be a feminist for all women, not just for women who look like you."
Activist and writer Rachel Cargle says white women who overlook racism in women they identify with are “putting whiteness over womanhood.” She told me white women need to ask themselves, “Am I an accomplice to justice or to the comfort of white supremacy?"
I know where I want to be.
Most people think of the Ku Klux Klan when they hear “white supremacy.” But the term just means that whiteness is the supreme value, which in the news media it is. As feminist writer Anushay Hossain noted to me, “Just the fact that Megyn Kelly feels she can have a conversation about race on television with three white people is the definition of white privilege.” Before anything offensive was said, there was already a problem.
White people should educate themselves
Brown, who wrote “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” acknowledges that Kelly seems to have learned about the history of blackface and why it is unacceptable — but it’s exhausting to have to keep teaching white people about basic history.
“It’s time to raise the standard for public figures like Kelly," Brown told me. "No more learning on the job in the face of backlash. Take responsibility for the platform you have and educate yourself before the racist remarks escape your lips.”
While her tearful apology was a sign of true contrition to some people, the women of color I spoke to saw it as proof she hadn't really reckoned with her deep issues.“Was she crying because she’s afraid of losing her job?" asked Cargle. "Has she ever cried when an unarmed black man was shot by a police officer?”
Lord knows that I am far from perfect on the issue of race. I cringe at things I’ve said in the past and especially at how long it took me to grasp the concept of institutional racism. But I’m making the effort to inform myself and grow and learn from people who know more about this issue than I do.