MSNBC Hosts Suggest Kelly Is a Racist Because He's From Irish Catholic Neighborhood in Boston

October 20, 2017

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell suggested Thursday night that White House chief of staff John Kelly's harsh words for Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson (Fla.) earlier that day were racially-tinged, attributing them to his childhood in Irish Catholic Boston.

Kelly, a retired four-star general whose son was killed in the line of duty, attacked Wilson for making public the details of a private conversation between President Donald Trump and the family of a fallen soldier.

Kelly said that two years earlier Wilson had lived up to "the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise" by hijacking a ceremony for a new FBI building dedicated to bureau agents killed on the job. Kelly said that Wilson spoke at the service and boasted to the audience that she obtained funding for the building.

O'Donnell did not like Kelly's comments one bit, saying his choice of words dated back to his upbringing in a racist neighborhood.

"When John Kelly was going to school in Oak Square in Brighton in the Boston Irish neighborhood he grew up in, the schools were segregated by custom and practice," Lawrence said. "And Boston segregation in the 1950s when John Kelly was in school was as flawless as the legal segregation in Florida and the rest of the South."

"I know the neighborhood John Kelly comes from," said O'Donnell, himself a Boston native. "I know the culture. 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."

Lawrence claimed the term "empty barrel" was "dehumanizing." MSNBC colleague Joy Reid tweeted her agreement the following morning.

The supposedly offensive and "dehumanizing" saying that Kelly repeated dates back centuries, and even makes an appearance in Shakespeare.

"I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart. But the saying is true: 'The empty vessel makes the greatest sound,'" a character says in Henry V.