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Harris will get ‘angry black woman’ tag in Pence debate. Embrace it.

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,” “disrespectful” — but most of all, “angry” — after her debate with Vice President Mike Pence. He’s leveled these hackneyed epithets at Harris since the moment Biden named her as his VP running 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’s 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 Brett 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 decorum 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 part 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.

In her debate with Pence, Harris’ 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. This is what the relatively few, but possibly crucial, voters who are undecided will be looking for in making their choice.

Harris can stand the Trump angry-Black-woman smear on its head an important 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’ 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.

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