The Big Problem With Michael Tracey's Accusations Against Maxine Waters

June 5th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A journalist recently made a bold accusation about California Rep. Maxine Waters, but the video of the incident tells a different story. Michael Tracey tweeted Saturday that the Democratic congressswoman "shoved" him —a dangerous claim that critics say has roots in racist stereotypes.

However, the video doesn't seem to show a "shove," rather just Waters waving him away as he attempted to stick the microphone in her face.

After Tracey's initial tweets received backlash for exaggerating the incident, he began calling it "unwanted physical contact" instead of a shove, with his cameraman later make a video defending him.

Tracey has been widely mocked on the internet for his exaggerated claims.

However, Terrell J. Starr, a reporter with Foxtrot Alpha, a site dedicated to military defense, tweeted that claims like Tracey's enforce stereotypes about black people that have historically been dangerous.

Starr's tweet then ignited a conversation about the "angry black woman" and "dangerous and violent" stereotypes that society often puts on black Americans.

ATTN: reached out to Tracey about the incident and he said that race had nothing to do with his reaction.

"I sought to interview Waters because she was a member of Congress speaking at a public event," he told ATTN: via Twitter direct message. "Any other assignment of motivation is false."

Angry and violent stereotypes have long been used as justification to silence black Americans.

Ferris State University says the "black brute" or "brute caricature" is a character and stereotype that became popular in the Reconstruction Era after slavery, as whites became increasingly afraid of freed blacks, and wanted to keep black men away from white women. A "black brute" character "portrays black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal - deserving punishment, maybe death."

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten and killed by a group of white men because he allegedly whistled at one of the men's white wives. During the trial, the wife, Carolyn Bryant, testified that Till whistled at her but also grabbed and threatened her. However, decades later she told a reporter that the accusations of physical threats were a lie.

Americans still have a distorted view of black men. A study published in March in the Journal of Personality and Psychology found that white people were more likely to say that black men were bigger and more threatening than white men of the same size. This perception problem could factor into the violent interactions police have with black Americans.

“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” lead author John Paul Wilson, Ph.D., of Montclair State University, said in a press release in March. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”

Black women often experience the "angry black woman" stereotype, especially if they're successful or outspoken.

Throughout her time in the White House, critics of former first lady Michelle Obama called her an angry black woman, and she spoke about the accusation in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired on CBS in December 2016.

“That was one of those things where you think, ‘Dang, you don’t even know me,’” Obama said. “You just sort of feel like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ And that’s the first blowback.” Obama told Winfrey that she soon realized that response is about a stereotype not her.

“You think, ‘That is so not me.’ But then you sort of think, ‘Well, this isn’t about me," she said. This is about the person or the people who write it. That’s just the truth.”

RELATED: These Girls Are Speaking out Against a Terrible Form of Racism in U.S. Schools