When White Women Attack: Boebert assailing Omar reminds us racism is alive even in Congress

OPINION: Sophia A. Nelson writes that Rep. Lauren Boebert, who recently apologized for calling Rep. Ilhan Omar a "jihadist," is one of the silliest and repugnant, members to ever serve in Congress.

Reps. Lauren Boebert and Lauren Boebert
(Photo: Getty Images)

America is really in a dark place. And I think we all know it to be true. Congress used to be a safe haven from the politics of personal animus and destruction toward one’s colleagues. The whole system of our democracy is built on respect, decorum and compromise in the federal legislative body politics. Those days are clearly over. 

We have entered a new era of open hostility, hatred, unveiled racism, videos depicting congressional members beheading other members of Congress, recriminations and even religious bigotry. The latest example on display this past week was from one of the most unhinged Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

The Right’s apparent second coming of Annie Oakley is one of the silliest, most repugnant, unserious, ridiculous members of Congress ever to serve in the lower chamber. 

Lauren Boebert
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) waits for the beginning of a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol July 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Boebert’s latest attacks happened two weeks ago when the House voted to censure U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for his vile use of a meme depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez (AOC) of New York caused Boebert to once again target what she has deplorably dubbed the “Jihad Squad” — which consists of four women of color elected representatives famously known as The Squad: Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and its Muslim members Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Instead of condemning her Republican colleague’s vile feigned murder of a female colleague and standing in solidarity with her, Boebert attacked The Squad during a House floor speech, as she shrieked, “The Jihad Squad member from Minnesota has paid her husband, and not her brother husband, the other one, over a million dollars in campaign funds,” she said. “This member is allowed on the Foreign Affairs Committee while praising terrorists.” All as the presiding officer tried to gavel her down with little success. 

Fast forward to the Thanksgiving holiday week and Rep. Boebert again went after Rep. Omar while speaking to a conservative audience. The 34-year-old freshman congresswoman recalled a Capitol elevator encounter with Omar when she claimed a fretful Capitol Police officer ran up to them. Lauren Boebert said: “Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine.” Boebert yet again referred to Omar, who is Muslim, and her Democratic colleagues as the “Jihad Squad.”

Boebert later claimed it was just a joke. House Democrats and millions of Americans failed to see the humor in such an openly vile and heinous attack on a sitting member of Congress who also happens to be a Muslim woman of color. 

Although Boebert has apologized after receiving heavy backlash to her comments, this kind of abuse and disrespect must not be allowed to stand. 

There is a consistency of bad decorum in Reps. Boebert, Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Madison Cawthorne and other Republican members of Congress who take to the House floor. The lack of dignified leadership, a base standard for members of Congress, is appalling. From heralding Kyle Rittenhouse as an American hero for shooting two people to death and wounding another in what he calls “self defense,” to not wearing masks, attempting to take guns to the floor, and openly trafficking in racism and anti-semitism. It’s simply unconscionable for members of the United States Congress to act this way.

Secondly, and more odious to me as a Black woman is the way that all of these members, specifically Reps. Boebert and Greene, have been allowed to demean, menace and threaten Omar, AOC, Tlaib, and Pressley. The attacks are nothing short of racist. We no longer have to fear racist tropes and attacks from White men in power. They now have White women of power doing their bidding. White women can take cover because they are women. They can say things in the 21st century that White men simply cannot. It’s becoming commonplace — and not just in the hallowed halls of the Congress.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The issue of intersectionality of race and gender keeps rearing its ugly head over and over again for Black women everywhere, including me.

I experienced this as a professor and scholar in residence at Christopher Newport University when a small, angry group of White female faculty and students (with the blessing of the very White administration officials) took exception to a tweet where I, as a Christian, asked a question about a bisexual DC Comics character. Instead of asking me offline what I meant by the tweet or attempting to create a campus wide dialogue, I was called a homophobe, and was subjected to smears, threats and petitions for my ouster. I do not believe a White scholar or professor in my position would been treated in such a hostile manner.

Sadly, I am not alone. I talk to Black female colleagues in corporate and academia industries, and others, who experience these naked micro-aggressions daily. This cannot be the way we as Black women allow others to treat us when we hold high positions of respect and honor. If we do not start standing up to this new form of oppression by our White female colleagues and counterparts, we are in for another generation of professional regression and disrespect. 

Whether we’re talking about the mistreatment of Janet Jackson who endured unfair ridicule for the recently revisited “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl, the recent broadside media hit against Vice President Kamala Harris, or racist and xenophobic attacks on Rep. Omar and other women of color in Congress, we must push back against it and ask ourselves, what will we and others in position of power do about it?

Will Boebert be censured? Will Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speak out against her? Or will there be more silence, division and more attacks on Black women in public life?

There is a common thread of disrespect of our credentials, our voice, our humanity and our faith. We do not have to always agree, but we should respect people’s faith and their right to express non-hateful opinions, questions and views consistent with that faith, without them having to be targeted and attacked with unkind labels.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

Have you subscribed to the Grio podcasts, ‘Dear Culture’ or Acting Up? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!