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How white journalists fail in their coverage of Vice President Kamala Harris

Recent media critiques of Harris, including an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, reveal the ways some white members of the press resort to tropes and stereotypes over facts.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, columnist Peggy Noonan attempted to make the argument that Vice President Kamala Harris is unprepared for, and unserious about, her job.  

She was deservedly dragged online

Noonan deployed tropes frequently used against Black women to depict the first nonwhite, female vice president as unstudious, overly ambitious and too friendly for the role.

Suggesting a Black person is lazy while you encourage them to do less work is remarkable evidence of cognitive dissonance.

“People would be relieved to see you look chastened,” Noonan wrote, adding her belief that Harris has “a lot to be humble about.” She also downplayed the racism and sexism Harris has faced while in office. “A competent politician doesn’t blame bigotry but beats it,” Noonan wrote.

Noonan snidely criticized Harris for saying she wanted to explore the systemic issues fueling America’s immigration challenges.

“Studying ‘root causes’ is a way of saying you want to look busy while you do nothing,” she wrote.

Suggesting a Black person is lazy while you encourage them to do less work is remarkable evidence of cognitive dissonance.

Black politicians don’t need willfully ignorant white journalists humbling them to reach success. They need accurate news coverage, including acknowledgment of all the racist and sexist barriers to success they face. When members of the press rush to do the former, they inevitably fail to do the latter. 

Many of them get mired in nonsense. Here, I’m thinking about the recent media coverage of Harris’ cookware preferences, or her choice to use wired earbuds rather than Bluetooth headphones, or the obsession over her body language during her appearances with fellow Cabinet members. All of these are designed to present the vice president as careless, overly luxurious or cutthroat.

Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on June 3.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

To be clear, I’m not saying Harris is immune to valid criticism. I’m saying white members of the press routinely demonstrate an unwillingness, or inability, to reckon with the entirety of Harris’ experience as a Black public figure in the predominantly white world of politics. Despite their haughty tone and their self-assuredness, there’s a complexity missing from their coverage that’s glaring to anyone who’s experienced inequality.

I’ve found far more astute political critiques about Harris and the Biden administration while waiting in line at my local grocery store than I ever could in the pages of The Wall Street Journal — in part, because the people of Harlem recognize truths that the Peggy Noonans of the world don’t: that racism and sexism pervade American politics. 

Perhaps it’s Noonan who could use some humbling.

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Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.