Two Septembers ago, Democratic primary voters of Massachusetts’s Seventh Congress District decided to oust our long-time , Mike Capuano, and send Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley to the House in his place. The vote wasn’t close. It seemed that Ayanna was right, that for the voters who cared, change could not wait.
At the time, I questioned why change was even needed, much less that it couldn’t wait. Mike Capuano was a force in Congress, working on basic stuff that wins no glamour prizes but which are vital to the operation of a big city : transportation, utility pipelines, natural gas. He was slated to be a Committee chairman and, with the Democratic takeover that happened in November, would have been a chairman. But no. Instead, we got Congresswoman Pressley.
Yesterday Ayanna revealed to us all that she is bald, a victim of alopecia. She posted a picture of herself in bald mode — the picture I have posted above — quite the surprise to us who have always seen her lavishly and glamorously wigged. I saw her announcement and posted it on my facebook page. As I am 90 percent bald as well, it was a matter for which she and I could walk the same road, a thing which hadn’t yet happened between the two of us since her election. All well and good. Becoming bald does happen to people. You live with it.
And then came yesterday and her posting a picture of herself fully bald. No wig. Just skull. And it went viral. All kinds of people posted that Ayanna post on their social media pages. Why ? Not just because it was a thing but, evidently, because to be bald is to be ashamed, and to let oneself be seen bald is something courageous. I’ll admit to the fact. I don’t like myself bald, which is why I wear a hat in my photos. Yet for me, being bald is also about being old; such little hair as I do have is ice white, and I do not like to appear old, I hate everything about being old. Ayanna. however, is not old, she is young. Plenty of young people, including young women, are bald : has everybody forgotten fiercely bald Grace Jones ?
So why the rush to applaud bald Ayanna ? What is happening here ? Why the talk of pride ?
I have yet to see from Ayanna a legislative accomplishment, yet to read of Federal dollars she has secured for our transportation needs. Fans of public transportation call every day, it seems, for more transit, more rail, more service, and more money : but so far as I can tell, not a peep from Ayanna about any Federal money coming our way to build it or fund it. Mike Capuano would have been on the case with his customary effectiveness.
Yet it is now quite clear that the energy among the Seventh’s Democratic primary voters is not for customary or effective but for something else : personality. Ayanna was the majority’s choice because of who she is : a woman of color. That has been almost her exclusive priority so far : here I am, a woman of color, in the House, a role model for all the young girls of color who can succeed and thus be “Black girl magic” for the thousands of young girls of color who need role models who “look like them.”
Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been a young girl of color, so I can’t say what young girls of color aspire to be, or why. But I can say this : even young girls of color who come to think about Congress think of it as a place to “get stuff done.” Why else do young people (and the rest of us) say “do your job” ? My grand-daughter is a soon to be 18 year old girl of color: and she gussies herself up, just as Ayanna does, in order to look good; but she knows that it won’t be turquoise fingernail polish that gets her into college but her top of the class grades and her two jobs where she gets stuff done. Ayanna playing instagram princess may infuse her fans with a visual high, but if that’s her primary reason for holding the Seventh’s Congress seat she does us all a disservice. We don’t, or shouldn’t send people to Congress to maximize ego addictions.
I consider Ayanna a friend; we have always enjoyed very cordial relations, she as elected official, I as journalist and centrist political operative. As a City Councillor she worked on actual stuff, good and useful stuff, and got it done. It is understood between us, now, nationally, that we don’t agree on much (though we both oppose 45) : but each of us respects the other’s bona fides. In that vein, I have been puzzled by Ayanna’s performance. I remain puzzled. She may be a freshman in Congress, but she’s of the majority party. Several freshman Democrats have made their mark legislatively : Katie Porter, Lauren Underwood, Abigail Spanberger, Jared Polis, Connor Lamb all come to mind. The voters whom they represent are well served.
Ayanna has now announced that she is running for re-election. No one is likely to oppose her. Perhaps in her next term she will become bored with imagery and find interest in an actual legislative issue — certainly there are many that the Seventh could benefit by. (Note : Ayanna has proposed a criminal justice reform bill, whose purposes and provisions you can read here : https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres702/BILLS-116hres702ih.pdf — I shall discuss her bill in a separate article, to be published tomorrow)
Perhaps, too, she will be appointed to a nuts and bolts committee that appropriates Federal dollars. Maybe her criminal justice reform bill will also make it to a full committee hearing. Until these things happen, however, I guess I will have to settle for being a bald person represented by a bald person…..
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere