Connecticut's first Black congresswoman shared her thoughts on a recent controversy over a virtual town hall she held that was "zoombombed."
On Monday evening, U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Ct.) shared photos on Twitter of the messages she received during a virtual campaign meeting with Newtown residents, which included dozens of notes in all caps saying, "Shut up n****r go pick your cotton."
So sorry to Newtown who had to endure this zoom bombing episode
During our mtg these ppl continued to call me the N-word, play derogatory music & flood the chat with comments like this. This behavior is being normalized! We can ALL choose not to accept it.
Please vote on Nov 3rd pic.twitter.com/4gzGRDaO5l
— Jahana Hayes (@JahanaHayesCT) October 12, 2020
The messages also included “Trump is the best president the U.S. has ever had!!!!" and other showings of support for President Donald Trump.
In a Medium post published on Tuesday, Hayes spoke about how the incident affected her as she runs for reelection.
"I am tired, completely and utterly tired. No, actually I’m exhausted. This is something that a leader is not supposed to say; but it’s whatever," Hayes wrote, spotlighting the non-stop nature of political campaigning.
"The call ends and I have exactly nine minutes before my next meeting begins. I tell myself chin up, put your game face on, don’t let this get you down, you have more work to do. The next meeting lasts about an hour and goes off without a hitch. To wrap up my evening, I call my staffer, who was moderating the event, to see if she is ok- I call the only other Black person on the zoom to check in on her and be sure she is ok- I call my Communications Director to instruct him to report the incident," she added.
In the post, she explained that 10 minutes into the meeting, she heard "shut up n****r," forcing her communications team to mute the person. Another person on the call started playing a song with the word n****r on repeat and was quickly removed.
Hayes went on to highlight that she didn't t have time to initially reflect on what happened because she had to make sure that the people around her were OK.
She said that people questioned why she would post the screenshot of the chat with so many offensive words in it. However, she wrote that she wanted people to not only see what Black women go through while running for office in 2020 but also to process her own feelings about the incident.
"I realized in that moment that I am not OK. I am not OK that this happened. I am not OK, that this is not the first time this has happened in my life or that I’ve had to explain that this happens. I am not OK, that I have to post a screenshot to prove it happened. I am not OK, that people will still doubt that it happened or the word of the forty or so participants on the call will be a necessary to 'verify' the incident happened," Hayes said.
"I am not OK, that I will have to delicately explain to people that this happens- here. I am not OK, that many will try and separate/defend these words and actions and will not see that these comments are not about policy or politics- they are about racism and hate and challenge our decency. I am not OK! I said it- I admit it, I am not OK," Hayes added.
Hayes told the Hartford Currant that she has notified U.S. Capitol Police and the Newtown police about what happened. Zoom also sent an apology to Hayes on Twitter.
Jahana – We are deeply upset to hear about this and we take the privacy of Zoom Meetings very seriously. Can you please share the details of this meeting via DM? We will escalate to our trust and safety team. Please also see https://t.co/qVHopYXKUi for protecting your meetings.
— Zoom (@zoom_us) October 13, 2020
Her Republican opponent, David X. Sullivan, also criticized the use of slurs, telling the Hartford Currant that "it was disgraceful. It was such a disgusting incident to interfere and disrupt a legitimate campaign activity with such hateful language that can’t be tolerated in politics or any other segment of our society.”
Democratic State Chair Nancy DiNardo defended Hayes in a statement, criticizing Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) for statements made just one day before.
"Yesterday, a U.S. Senator said the worst thing anyone could call a person is racist. He’s wrong. This happened last night during a community meeting in CT and it is far, far worse. This horrific attack must be denounced by all. It is beyond time for leadership that unites,” DiNardo said.
In her Medium post, Hayes goes on to note that society "has become numb to this behavior" and said that Black women "are expected to press on, to ignore this behavior; to not talk explicitly about it because it is uncomfortable, divisive or does not reflect the sentiments of most people."
"I have watched other women weather this storm and fend off these types of attacks and wonder if in their quiet places they have felt what I am feeling right now. So many well intentioned people say things like, ignore it, you’re better than that or don’t let it bother you," she wrote.
"Even as I write, I am exhausted by the fact that I am carefully choosing my words, so as to capture the experience, but not offend the reader. We are left debating zoom security, yet not addressing the underlying issue- that pockets of racism and hate still exist right in our own front yard. The most painful part of it all is that no matter what you achieve in life, no matter how many degrees you earn or how good of a person you try to be- all some people will ever allow themselves to see is a N-word," she said.
Words, she added, do matter and often cut deep no matter how much people try to ignore them. Hayes also highlighted the uncharted territory she was in as the state's first Black congresswoman and said there was no blueprint for how to effectively discuss a situation like this with constituents.
She was open about the need for self-care, writing that she plans to read a book, take a bath and cry a little before getting back to work.
"While understanding my pain may be a journey for some, a refusal to acknowledge it is a non starter for anyone who seeks to heal our nation. The only way we can cut the cancer of racism out of our communities is by calling it out when we see it and raising our collective voices to get rid of it," she said.
"In the words of Edmund Burke, 'the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing.' Let’s all commit to doing something and being ok together," she added.