Although she isn’t the first Black woman to run for vice president, Harris is the first to run on a major party ticket and the first HBCU graduate to run. Considering the racist and sexist history of this country, political commentators were bound to spew such rhetorical misogynoir at Harris before she’d even step to a podium. Add in the fact that we have a current man in the White House who’s emboldened the racists and the sexists even more, and the searing attacks were inevitable.
But it’s not just homegrown bashing that Harris has to face. Just this week in Australia, an artist by the name of Johannes Leak published a demeaning cartoon in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper, a publication known for its conservative views. The drawing depicts a smiling Biden saying “it’s time to heal a nation divided by racism.” Then in the next panel, it depicts Harris standing behind Biden as he says, “So I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie-down.”
With this visual, the cartoonist managed to combine two racist and sexist tropes into one. Not only did he infantilize Harris, but he designated Harris as the historical “mammy” meant to save a country built by white supremacy.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to racist and sexist tropes against Harris. It’s barely been a week since her VP announcement and already she’s been deemed a “mad woman” by Donald Trump, an “Aunt Jemima” by Virginia Mayor Barry Pressgraves, and a woman whose eligibility is questionable due to her parents’ immigrant status.
There’s a word for such viscous attacks rooted in misogyny and racism — misogynoir.
Many Black people on Twitter started using the term as soon as Harris was announced as Biden’s running mate.
“Prepare yourselves for the misogynoir that will be masked as criticism of Kamala Harris,” tweeted writer Shanita Hubbard.
Andrew Gillum, the former Florida gubernatorial candidate, also tweeted out a Wikipedia definition of the term in reference to the birtherism talk already aimed at Harris.
Misogynoir, or misogyny specifically aimed at Black women, points to the specific ways Black women have experienced racism and sexism in this country. Black feminists like Moya Bailey and womanist blogs like Gradient Lair have worked to build the language around misogynoir so it can be readily named when pushing for political and social change. All the “angry Black women” tropes, the sex shamming of say a Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, or the inability to take cues from Black women leaders are all rooted in misogynoir. It’s a culture and a system that stretches from the White House to the workplace, to the home.
With Harris’ political future ahead of her, it’s important that we all be mindful of how we frame our discussions around her and be informed enough to call out misogynoir attacks when they come. Although every elected official must be held accountable for any move that’s not serving their constituents, there’s a fine line between pointed critique and misogynoir characteristics.
Now is the perfect time to learn for the sake of this country and our everyday lives.