Earl Ofari Hutchinson
You can mail this one in. That is Trump will again sneer at Democratic presidential nominee Kamala Harris as take your pick, “mad,” “nasty,’ “vicious,” and “disrespectful.” But most of all, “angry” after her debate with Vice President Mike Pence. He’s leveled these hackneyed epithets at Harris the moment Biden named her as his VP mate.
But her debate with Pence will be special. There will be a big viewing audience. There will be heightened interest in it given the radically different philosophical, racial, and gender contrast Harris poses to Pence. There will be Trump chomping at the bit to pounce—again, his COVID affliction notwithstanding.
Pence for his part will come off as the calm, reasoned, low keyed, steady at the leadership wheel, knowledgeable policy wonk on the issues. He will take special care to make no personal attacks on Harris. The idea is to reinforce the contrast of him as a leader people have confidence in and Harris who is supposedly too quick to attack.
Trump offensive against her has been his usual blend of vile, hit below the belt, personal name calling. Branding Harris as angry is at the center of this ploy.
The angry Black woman image is an ancient racial stereotype that’s been fanned in films, song, and popular verbal put-downs of Black women. They are labeled crude, hard, tough, quick to blow up, and always disagreeable. The not so subtle implication is that they lack the alleged soft, dainty, feminine, refined qualities of white women.
Harris got her first taste of this offensive labeling during the Kavanaugh SCOTUS confirmation hearings. She was tough, aggressive, and challenging in questioning Kavanaugh. Other Democrats were too. However, they weren’t singled out as being obnoxious in their questioning as Harris supposedly was. There was little doubt then that if Harris were tabbed as part of a Democratic presidential ticket that she would be quickly tagged with the angry Black woman label. Harris could smile, speak in a whisper, and be the model of décor on the campaign trail, But Trump would still find a way to sneak the stereotype in about her.
So let him, but when he does Harris must not get in the gutter with him. There’s absolutely no need for her to respond or feel the need to rebut every one of his tissue of lies, falsities and name calling. Swapping insults with him is simply to play into his well-honed game of distraction, diversion, and distortion. The added danger of the schoolyard mudsling back and forth is that it gives Trump and the media more juicy and salacious ammunition for another titillating and distracting headline and sound bite. Negativism feeds on itself. Harris gains nothing by shooting back at Trump “liar,” or “con man” when he insults her. This just brings a gotcha smile to Trump.
Harris’s main task is to sell herself as a leader with a thoughtful and pragmatic approach on the crucial issues of health care, criminal justice reform and education in her debate with Pence. This is what the relatively few, but possibly crucial, handful of voters who are undecided will be looking for in making their choice.
The angry Black woman slur certainly won’t hurt her with Black voters, especially Black women voters. They know this characterization is a lie and are offended by it. However, there are some Blacks still wary and even unforgiving of Biden for his backing of the Clinton Crime Bill, his alleged Trash of Anita Hill, and opposition to bussing.
Harris being a Black woman can soften this this by hammering a fiery message to Black voters that she will be an impassioned advocate for criminal justice reform, massive funding and support for public education, jobs, and housing, and aggressively combat police abuse. In other words, deliver the 2020 version of Obama’s hope and change message to them.
Harris can stand the Trump angry Black woman smear on its head in another way. That is by continuing to put on display the sharp, informed, political skills and acumen on the issues that has moved her quickly up the political ladder. This is especially important for yet another reason.
Biden will be near age 80 on inauguration day if he wins. Harris’s final task is to assure voters that if there is an age or health challenge or Biden elects to serve only one term, she has the experience and political savvy to quickly take the wheel of governing.
Strong, tough, decisive, and yes, aggressive, are the exact qualities that voters and millions of Americans want and expect in their leaders. If that’s what Trump brands as anger in Harris, then so be it. Harris should embrace that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of What’s Right and Wrong with the Electoral College (Middle Passage Press) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.