Florida U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson accused White House Chief of Staff John Kelly of using “a racist term” when he referred to her as “an empty barrel” as the White House stood by his claims that she was grandstanding during a solemn salute to fallen heroes.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Wilson demanded Kelly stop lying about her and pushed back on his ridiculing her as an example of “empty barrels making the most noise.”

“I think that’s a racist term,” Wilson told CNN, without citation. “I’m thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel. And I don’t like to be dragged into something like that.”

Wilson did not elaborate on the racist implications of the “empty barrel” phrase, which is widely credited to Plato.

Other liberal critics also brought up race, attacking Kelly’s hometown neighborhood of Oak Square in Brighton as a bastion of segregation “by custom and practice” in the 1950s.

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“It was a neighborhood in which calling someone who looked like Frederica Wilson an empty barrel was the kindest thing that would have been said about her,” said MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, who grew up in Dorchester, on his show Thursday night.

O’Donnell accused Kelly of “dehumanizing” Wilson by not mentioning her by name during a deeply personal news conference at the White House Thursday.

“You know what wasn’t sacred when he was a kid growing up where he was growing up?” asked O’Donnell. “Black women or black people. And, oh by the way, women were not sacred either. They were not honored.’

O’Donnell also said the “Catholic parish he grew up in” was a place where “women were getting beat up by their drunken husbands as a normal weekly occurrence.”

Kelly took additional criticism yesterday when video of the FBI field office dedication in Florida emerged that failed to back up his claim that Wilson “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building.”

But the White House said Kelly “absolutely” stands by his claim that Wilson was grandstanding, contending she made comments that were not part of the speech.

“If you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you’re an ’empty barrel,’ ” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “If you don’t understand that reference, I’ll put it a little more simply. As we say in the South: All hat, no cattle.”


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