Peggy Noonan is my friend. Here’s why her Kamala Harris comments were wrong.
OPINION: Sophia A. Nelson says Noonan's critiques of Harris' joy was tone-deaf and lacked a true understanding of Black women.
I read about it late on Sunday night on Twitter, and I instantly knew that my conservative friend, famed Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal opinion columnist, Peggy Noonan, had bit off more than she could chew.
Noonan penned a column where she was rightly perceived as treating Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, disrespectfully by implying that Harris needed to be more serious and sober-minded when she is out on the campaign trail — not dancing, laughing and being what she considered to be inappropriate.
I couldn’t disagree with Peggy more.
I have been a contributor to theGrio for over a decade. I was a life-long Republican, a moderate who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and covered both First Lady Michelle Obama and the Obama White House from 2010 to 2012. I have been a fierce anti-Trumper since the 2015 primaries, and a Never Trumper, who was a senior advisor to The Lincoln Project when it first launched earlier this year.
Coming from a conservative baby boomer, Noonan’s comments about Harris are familiar; it was tone-deaf and lacked in any understanding of women of color and how we move through life, and worse, it reeks of bias, ignorance, and white privilege.
I know Peggy. I do not know her to be a racist. She is decent, and I assure you, she is horrified at how her comments have been received, and I suspect (although I have no knowledge of this) that she will either issue an apology or find a forum to clean up her remarks.
But, it is partly my responsibility as a fellow conservative woman of color to check her and correct her, so that she does better the next time.
As soon as she will allow me, I will “coach” Peggy on the following:
1. It’s not that you can’t criticize how Kamala Harris dances, or make comments about her laughter. It’s that you didn’t do the same for Mr. YMCA Trump, who danced horribly, and worse, mocks, attacks and makes jokes about others. Shouldn’t the man who presently holds the world’s most powerful office have to conduct himself better?
2. Making it seem as though Kamala is not serious is silly at best. We can’t win with white people. We are either angry. Mean. Too independent. Too hard. Too ambitious. Or, when we try to be warm, nice, down to earth and fun, we are not quite serious enough. Which is it?
3. Coming for Mary J. Blige’s lyrics and using them to back up your criticisms of the first woman of color ever nominated to become vice president of the United States is what really got you into trouble.
Following Peggy’s comments, I called for Black women to show her “some grace” in a Twitter thread on Monday morning. I wanted people to know the Peggy that I know personally, who is not some closeted racist or just another “Karen” looking to hurt Black women. I wanted us to use this as a teachable moment, where we use this time we are in to educate our white sisters on a few important facts about us as women of color.
The truth is Kamala Harris dances and uses her laughter to deal with what many of you out there simply could not. The hate. The name-calling. The death threats. The attacks on her by the sitting president of the United States and others in his camp.
We as Black professional women face a unique set of issues — as I wrote about in my first book, Black Woman Redefined — and part of how we get through it all is to find ways to exude joy. To share peace. To laugh out loud when others would not dare.
Senator Kamala Harris is a trailblazer. She is the first to ascend to this historical moment in politics. She has a right to play her playlist, twirl in the rain, and laugh at her own jokes if she wishes. And no one, not Trump, not Peggy Noonan, or anyone else should be able to define for her or any other woman, who they can be, and when they can be that.
In the end, we have to stop calling everyone and everything racist. Unless, of course, it is. Peggy Noonan, and white women like her, just need to be educated.
I know we, as Black women, are tired. God are we tired. But look at what being resilient and rising beyond the horrors of our history has propelled us to at this moment.
Senator Kamala Devi Harris is standing at the precipice of greatness and American history. So I say dance, soror. Dance. We are all dancing with you.
Sophia A. Nelson is the award-winning author of “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.”
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