“I Believe Frederica” Hashtag Is Trending On Twitter, & Here’s Why It’s So Important For Women Of Color
President Donald Trump has spent the past week tweeting about Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, after she told news outlets that the president advised the widow of a fallen soldier that her dead husband "knew what he was signing up for." It's the latest instance of Trump attacking women of color on social media; ESPN sportscaster Jemele Hill and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz are two recent examples that come to mind. Trump dismissed Wilson, who was with widow Myeshia Johnson when she received his condolence call, as "wacky" in a Thursday tweet.
Wilson said she wanted to "curse" Trump out after hearing what he said to the family. In response, people shared the reasons they stand by Wilson's story, and a viral hashtag emerged. It allows people to stand in solidarity politically, but #IBelieveFrederica also highlights the importance of listening to women of color both on and off social media. As a Black woman, following this hashtag has made me feel better about voicing my opinions even if I may face controversy.
Wilson's only offense was defending the family of a Gold Star soldier from what she viewed as an offensive comment. The congresswoman spending time with the mourning family wasn't a political ploy —the fallen soldier was an alum of a mentoring program Wilson founded, according to the Washington Post, and Wilson has many other connections with the family. The situation is personal for her, and the response from the president and his staff (White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly said he was "stunned" by her remarks) reminds us how difficult it is to be a Black woman in America. Having thousands of people publicly support her is powerful for too many reasons to list here, and it shows us all how social media can be used for good.
The Hashtag Fights Back Against Black Women Being Silenced
Every person of color faces some level of oppression and discrimination in this country, but Black women have regularly stereotyped as hyper-sexualized and sassy. This could be one reason Black women have been ignored and undervalued by everyone law enforcement officers to potential romantic partners. Wilson, who has been involved in state and national politics since the 1990s, is not laying low amidst this backlash. She's known for wearing cowboy hats pretty much everywhere, and she said Kelly used racist language in his statement about her. Basically, she isn't letting anyone intimidate her, and the visibility of this hashtag shows all Black women that it's okay to be vocal.
People Are Saying #IBelieveFrederica Because The Soldier's Family Has Corroborated Her Account
Another reason #IBelieveFrederica is so important: Her account has been corroborated by the grieving family. The soldier's mother, who was in the room when Trump called, told the Washington Post that Wilson's recounting of the event is true. Trump's truth-telling track record is a bit shaky — nonpartisan fact-checking site PolitiFact has rated nearly 70 percent of the things he's said as false or mostly false. It's worth asking why so many people doubt Wilson's comments when she has no reason to lie. One study found that 1 in 5 white people think Black people are untrustworthy — a disheartening reminder of how far we have to go before Black voices are valued as much as their white counterparts.
She's Facing Vile Insults
Wilson has been called everything from a "piece of sh*t" to a "ghetto rat" by the fine people of Twitter. Granted, the platform is known for being a cesspool when it comes to racism, but the insults flung at Wilson show just how eager people are to attack a woman of color for being Black and unafraid. If someone feels the need to criticize the congresswoman, it's possible to do so in a measured, balanced manner — but unfortunately, that hasn't been the case online. Even the #IBelieveFrederica hashtag has been co-opted by trolls mocking her for everything from her hats to her weight. But the majority of responses are to be positive — an encouraging fact in today's America.
As a Black woman, I sometimes feel discouraged about my outspokenness. Will I be dismissed or attacked by trolls? The #IBelieveFrederica is a reminder to myself and others that we can, and must, speak out on social media and offline — and that we will be believed. If Wilson can face attacks from Trump and his administration with grace, I can continue to speak my mind without fear.