Black Women Know Exactly Why Kamala Harris Had To Hold Back In the Debate Last Night
Photo: via Getty Images
Kamala Harris’s debate performance on Wednesday night was admirable on so many fronts. She had done her research and was prepared with talking points and answers. She was calm and measured, a constant smile on her face. She never raised her voice.
In essence, her demeanor was the exact opposite of President Donald Trump’s at the presidential debate the week before. Trump had been veritably unhinged–yelling, ranting, insulting, and constantly interrupting former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Kamala Harris did make headlines for a statement she made, possibly her most assertive statement of the night: “Mr. Vice President,” she said after being talked over by Vice President Pence yet again. “I’m speaking.”
“I’m speaking” swiftly went viral on social media, quickly being meme-ified and retweeted by her supporters.
But not everyone loved that Harris had the dignity to assert herself. When speaking with Fox News about what he thought of the Vice Presidential debate, President Donald Trump called Harris a “monster” and pronounced her as “totally unlikable.” For Black women around the world, the insults Trump lobbed at Harris were seen for the dog whistles that they were.
Harris and every other Black woman in America is deeply familiar with the pervasive racial stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman”. The “Angry Black Woman” is a bitter and emotional woman who has let the circumstances of her life carve out a chip on her shoulder. And the media is quick to peddle this narrative.
Look no farther than the public flaying of Michelle Obama during the early days of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. The negative headlines about Michelle ranged from “Michelle Obama Hates America” to “Just Say No to Mrs. Obama“. And the vitriol aimed at her on social media was especially vile.
The former First Lady spoke candidly about the media’s unfair treatment of her while promoting her memoir “Becoming” at the 2019 Essence Festival.
“People from all sides, Democrats and Republicans, tried to take me out by the knees,” Obama told host, Gayle King. “And the best way they could do it was to focus on the strength of the Black woman, so they turned that into a caricature. For a minute there, I was an angry Black woman who was emasculating her husband.”
But the effects of misogynoir–which is defined as the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women–are not limited to public figures. They are ubiquitous.
Even I, a Black woman who is not at all in the public eye, experience misogynoir constantly.
Recently, I was lamenting to my brother over the fact that I am perpetually single. During our conversation, I was brainstorming possible reasons as to why no man wanted to commit to me. “From my perspective,” my brother (who is also Black) told me, “you’re too loud.” He continued: “It’s intimidating. If I were a guy, that would scare me right off.”
His comments stung.
I called a girlfriend later, my heart hurting, my feelings of undesirability and unfemininity coupled with that all-too-familiar feeling of shame that comes with simply existing as a Black woman on the planet–and especially as a Black woman in white spaces. But I was unable to articulate the uneasiness I felt at his comments. “I can’t help who I am,” I said to her.
“It’s a double standard,” she responded. “Our friend Jocelyn is just as loud as you are–ask anyone. But no one would ever tell her that her loudness is a negative trait, or something that she should change about herself in order to land a man. But Jocelyn is white.”
I felt the burden of my identity like a bag of bricks in that moment. I knew that whatever I used to shield myself from misogynoir–a good job, a college education, fancy clothes and makeup–none of it would ever fully shield me from the racism and sexism I would face for the rest of my life.
Kamala Harris’s debate performance was measured and grounded because she knew she had to package herself to be palatable to white America.
After all, Harris already recently faced some media backlash over what critics called her unfair treatment of (now running mate, then-rival) Joe Biden at the Democratic Primary Debate. Now, it seems, Harris has changed tactics.
Kamala Harris doesn’t have the luxury of being loud or combative or angry–all feelings that would otherwise be completely justified in today’s political climate. Instead, in order to be taken seriously as a Vice Presidential candidate, she must devote a significant amount of her time and energy to being likeable. Trustworthy. Ladylike.
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