Within 24 hours of her historic selection as the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris was called “nasty,” “angry,” and a “madwoman” by this nation’s nasty and angry madman of a president.
But that’s OK. Harris is ready for him. Black women are always ready.
For so many women, especially Black women, these personal attacks on Harris’s sanity, temperament, and character land with familiar pain. Yet this nation’s relentlessly sharp elbows have taught us to fashion those wounds into medals, to make chevrons of resolve from those scars.
There is nothing Trump can say about Harris — and he will say and tweet a lot between now and November — that she has not heard before. She is a woman of color, the biracial daughter of a Jamaican father and a mother born in India. And as a candidate looking to help lead a country built on racist and sexist exclusion, she is again hearing tired comments about her Blackness because she is also Asian-American, as if it’s up to white people to determine how a person of color self-identifies.
Then there’s her native-born citizenship. Almost as soon as Harris was announced as former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, Newsweek thought it a fine idea to publish an opinion piece from a law professor who once ran for California attorney general and seems to be launching his own “birther” conspiracies. He questioned Harris’s “eligibility” to be a VP candidate because neither of her parents was a “naturalized US citizen at the time of Harris’s birth in 1964.”
For those who continue to flunk US geography, Harris was born in Oakland. That’s in California, which is a state — just like Hawaii was a state when Barack Obama was born there in 1961. Such accusations are as racist today as they were 12 years ago when Obama declared his candidacy for president.
Then and now, the intent is the same: to “otherize” those who are not white, and to claim with no subtlety whatsoever that people of color do not belong here. It’s a racist American playbook always kept handy to puff up white supremacy and, if the target is a woman, white male supremacy.
These racist and sexist broadsides are usually delivered with lots of umbrage, but little logic. For weeks, Harris was roasted for her political ambition, because only in women is ambition regarded as a character flaw. Beneath all the outrage are the writhing insecurities of men like Trump who are intimidated by strong, intelligent women.
The president is especially unnerved by fierce Black women, and he reserves for them a particular enmity. When he said Tuesday that men would be insulted if Biden chose a woman, that was a tell. It was Trump who was insulted — and frightened — by the prospect of a woman on the Democratic ticket.
And it shows. Beyond rote personal attacks, his campaign can’t figure out how to undercut Harris. Even her prosecutorial record as San Francisco district attorney and California’s attorney general, which deserves deep scrutiny, has them in knots. Republicans certainly won’t echo the criticism she garners for increasing mass incarceration by going after low-level offenders, or her failure to challenge police misconduct during her “top cop” tenure.
Trump knows what he’s in for. In withering cross-examinations in the Senate, Harris has embarrassed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his Justice Department successor William Barr, and especially a sputtering Brett Kavanaugh, during his Supreme Court confirmation. And Trump knows she’s coming after him. She will rise to the occasion, instead of lowering herself to his level.
This administration has never shied away from racism and sexism as political tools, while often ignoring the divisive and potentially dangerous repercussions. Trump will foolishly target Harris with his playground taunts; she’ll pulverize him with the truth of his failed presidency, especially his lethal mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a recent tweet, Trump called Harris “the kind of opponent everyone dreams of!” Don’t believe his empty hype. She’s already giving this president nightmares. And he will soon learn that in a nation designed to break Black women, we’ve forged our spines with steel.
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.