White Male Fragility: A problem powerful Black women still have to endure
OPINION: We cannot continue to feed the egos of men like Manchin and Scaramucci when they feel challenged, pushed, or simply not asked for their permission to speak truth to power
Last week, two national incidents involving two of our best and brightest sister stars in the Black community, Vice President Kamala Harris and MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross truly made me bristle at how fragile powerful white men are in the face of any kind of challenge, pushback or just the normal course of business when strong Black women are involved.
Just days after Stacey Abrams in Georgia has the entire, mostly-white-male Republican Party running scared of her expected 2022 run for governor, Vice President Harris reportedly caught flak for a visit to West Virginia last week to talk to citizens there about the Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package. A package by the way that would help West Virginians greatly as one of the poorest states in the nation.
On Jan. 28, Harris spoke to the local Virginia news station WSAZ. She answered questions about the administration’s new COVID-19 policy agenda and their priorities for the next round of federal stimulus legislation.
Harris’s appearance was part of a series of interviews she gave to local media in two hard-hit states: West Virginia and Arizona. Yet, instead of being embraced by her former Democratic colleague, Senator Joe Manchin, Harris was pummeled by Manchin for “not calling” or “clearing it with him.”
Worse than the very public temper tantrum at being “snubbed” by his former U.S. Senate colleague and now vice president of the United States, national news outlets like USA TODAY ran stories that called Harris’s visit a misstep. The Los Angeles Times called it a stumble and one from which Harris learned a valuable lesson.
I so disagree with that characterization. Vice President Harris was not stumbling or misstepping. She was in fact doing the bidding of the president of the United States, her boss, and America’s newly-elected leader, Joe Biden.
Would Manchin have bristled at such a visit like this from Mike Pence or Biden even in their capacity as VP’s or is something else afoot here? You would have to ask Manchin what’s in his heart, but it seemed to the rest of us, particularly those of us who are Black women, that Manchin was doing to Harris what so many of us experience in the workplace on a regular: Protecting his turf and telling us to watch ourselves.
Although, the Biden administration and Harris seemed to have made up with the vote early Friday to endorse Biden’s stimulus package. The lingering effect is one of disrespect to the nation’s first woman to hold her high office. Senator Manchin made a federal case out of the sitting vice president going to a sovereign state of the United States to talk with American citizens about relief from economic distress and the virus. Let that sink in for a moment.
As to Tiffany Cross, well this one really ticked me off. We all know Tiffany is a no-nonsense host on MSNBC who calls it as she sees it and backs down from no one. Cross had as a guest on her show this past week, former 10-day Trump White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and they got into a heated exchange on-air that went viral on social media.
Cross asked The Mooch why he was “radicalized” by Trump, or better, how he became so, only to apparently become un-radicalized. Scaramucci did not like the question, so he did what all white men like him do when challenged — he condescended the TV host and tried to course-correct her language and questioning.
Cross was having none of it. And it went downhill from there. I say, Brava Tiffany. We need hard-hitting journalists and TV hosts to ask the questions of these once Trump supporters who loved him, then hated him as late as 2019 or 2020. Tiffany was doing just that.
Some on Twitter went wild and characterized Tiffany as an abusive host and that the interview “went off the rails.” That’s a very bad spin on the reality of a host doing her job and asking the questions we all need to be answered as to the Trump sycophants and followers.
The better question, however, is why is there an ongoing media love affair with all of the old Republican white men, or middle-aged ones who wrecked the GOP dating back decades ago. The Lincoln Project guys are no exception. These conservative, supposedly reformed right-wing ad-men and consultants made millions being Republican day traders in ads for decades.
They often pushed racist tropes. They engaged in voter suppression through their candidates’ campaigns. They made millions playing hardball and dwindling whatever “big tent” the GOP once had to nothing. Then, once it was clear Donald Trump was even too evil and crazy for them — they became the darlings of the left and progressives during the 2020 campaign.
What’s more, they raised close to $100 million in last year’s campaign. But they, too, have clear issues with strong women. I know personally after being tossed out of the group as a senior advisor last April via a tweet after I went in on then-President Trump and used the “R” word, which I immediately apologized for and deleted after I had grasped its meaning had changed since the 1980s when we used that word a lot.
The tweet caused me weeks of heartburn as Fox News, Breitbart, The Daily Caller and Trump bots trolled my social media for weeks. They tried to “cancel me.” Ironically, at least one founder had previously used that word on Twitter and many other inappropriate words — as well as being associated with confederate symbols on a cooler on their boat — but that was excused as “past behavior.”
In the news this past week, the only woman co-founder of The Lincoln Project, Jennifer Horn, left the group due to what she told The New York Times was “John Weaver’s grotesque and inappropriate behavior, coupled with his long-standing deceptions.”
The organization clapped back at her hard, saying her departure rally had to do with the financial demands she made and was denied. I suspect we have not heard the end of this saga.
The thing that both Tiffany Cross and Kamala Harris have in common is that they were two strong, smart Black women simply doing their jobs. Well. And they faced a backlash and scolding from the white men — and some white women — who run the mainstream media for stepping out of their boxes without asking permission.
I guess folks missed the memo. Things have changed. Black women are no longer asking for permission. We’re simply done with that.
At the end of the day, the white male fragility of both Manchin and Scaramucci showed through, and the Black women — too often portrayed as mean, evil or overly ambitious — were in their line of fire and made out to be bad actors just for doing their jobs.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. I get that it took us 100 years since women earned the right to vote in order to get to this place to finally have a woman vice president, but it’s time for things to change.
We cannot continue to feed the egos of men like Manchin and Scaramucci when they feel challenged, pushed, or simply not asked for their permission to speak truth to power whenever we choose to do so.
Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio.com.
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