Governor Doug Ducey speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center on Aug 31, 2016. Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore
In our hyper-partisan world, we’ve become accustomed to the biting criticisms lobbed at opponents from both sides of the aisle.
In the heat of the moment — and when the stakes are high (i.e. life and death decisions about how to tackle a deadly virus) — it’s easy to say things we might later regret.
We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t give us, or our leaders, immunity from using racist or sexist dog whistles or undertones. And when it happens, it’s important to call it out and demand better.
A couple weeks ago, Gov. Doug Ducey crossed the line with his attacks on Vice President Kamala Harris, who he called “the worst possible choice” to lead the Biden administration’s efforts to curb migration at our southern border.
Ducey started by butchering the V.P.’s first name, then claimed the president had “trivialized the issue” in choosing Harris and that she “flat out just doesn’t care.”
There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, but let’s start at the beginning.
Harris has an uncommon first name. When she first threw her hat in the ring, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce Kamala, either. But a simple Google search turned up a long list of articles and even a YouTube video with a group of young kids who explain the incorrect and correct pronunciations (it’s Comma-la).
Over the past year, a slew of right-wing conservatives — from ex-President Donald Trump to Tucker Carlson — have purposefully mispronounced or mocked the pronunciation of her name, and when called out, have given a who cares response.
We should all care.
Harris is a world leader. First in line to the presidency. The highest-ranking woman — and woman of color — in our nation’s history.
I’m not a world leader, just a consultant with an unusual last name that few people pronounce correctly, but I’d be angry if someone purposefully slaughtered it after knowing the correct pronunciation, especially if that someone was a member of the media or an elected official.
That’s just plain disrespectful.
If the pronunciation of Harris’ first name is too difficult for the governor to manage, then he should simply refer to her as Madam Vice President. But I find it highly unlikely that Ducey can figure out how to pronounce Vladimir Putin but not Kamala Harris.
It’s much more plausible, especially in the context of Ducey’s other digs, that the mispronunciation was purposeful and intended as an insult.
Remember, Ducey also claimed that President Joe Biden had “trivialized” the issue of border security by appointing Harris, the second most powerful elected official in our country. And he claimed she lacked experience and passion, two incredibly ridiculous accusations.
Harris is the daughter of immigrants and has spoken passionately about her background and the need to treat migrants with dignity. She’s also a former U.S. Senator who served on the Homeland Security committee and was the attorney general of a border state. In that role, she worked with Mexican authorities to combat drug smuggling and human trafficking, which doesn’t sound trivial to me.
I don’t remember Ducey complaining when Trump appointed Mike Pence as the head of the coronavirus task force. Are we to believe that Pence had some exceptional experience with or passion for viruses? (Other than that time he ignored HIV while he was governor of Indiana and made an avoidable and preventable outbreak worse.)
Ducey seemed pleased with his attacks on Harris, tweeting out a video of his comments.
That video garnered many responses, especially from women who heard in Ducey’s words and mangling of Harris’ name what they perceived as sexist and racist undertones.
Kamala Harris is the Vice President of the United States and Doug Ducey wants to try and paint her as unwilling and unable to care about or handle things. Some things never change for women, no matter how high they ascend.
— Big Brain 🛎 (@BigBrain1234) March 25, 2021
Ducey’s allies and consultants were quick to leap to his defense, claiming the governor couldn’t exhibit sexist behavior since he employs women, which is as laughable as saying someone can’t make sexist comments if they have a daughter. Or a mother.
His allies also attacked state Sen. Victoria Steele, who responded to the video by calling Ducey a “silly white boy.” They claimed her remarks were racist.
Steele deleted her tweet and told the Arizona Capitol Times she regretted sending it. But what if Steele repeatedly and purposefully botched the governor’s name? What if she referred to him as Douchey instead of Ducey? Would those same allies be okay with that?
I doubt it. Because that’s disrespectful, and we expect better from our public servants.
Meanwhile, Ducey has yet to delete his tweet or make any apology for butchering Harris’ name or using sexist, condescending language to assail her experience and passion.
I’d call that a double standard. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a woman.
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