‘DEI’ and ‘incompetent’ attacks on Harris slammed as racist, sexist and out of touch

“The notion that one of the most qualified vice presidents’ qualifications are being called to question is offensive, and I think they're not going to go unchecked," Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America PAC, told theGrio.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 06: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Global Black Economic Forum during the 30th annual Essence Festival of Culture at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 6, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Harris was at the event to participate in a conversation with Essence Magazine President and CEO Caroline A. Wanga. (Photo by Michael DeMocker/Getty Images)

Though President Joe Biden has repeatedly denounced suggestions that he will step aside as the Democratic presidential nominee, discussions on news airwaves and in political circles have swirled about whether Vice President Kamala Harris could step in his place — but not without personal insults from her political opponents.

Though some polling shows Harris may have a better shot at defeating Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — including a majority of 211,000 Black voters approving of her record — critics say commentary from the political right about her leadership as vice president and potential Democratic presidential nominee trafficks in racism and sexism. 

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, dismissed Harris as a potential replacement for Biden, telling News Nation that America’s first female, first Black female and first South Asian female vice president is “unserious” and “incompetent.”

“She’s a very unserious person. She has not succeeded in anything she’s done,” said the former NFL player turned Republican lawmaker. “…this is the great example of affirmative action. This is a great example of DEI. We’re talking about a person who … has a skin color, but skin color does not … denote merit, does not denote competency, and she is a very incompetent person.”

And the same day of Owens’ remarks about Harris, the New York Post published an opinion article written by Charles Gasparino titled, “America may soon be subjected to the country’s first DEI president: Kamala Harris.” In it, the conservative blogger called the sitting vice president an “irrepressibly fatuous politician” and who “may become the leader of the free world because the Democratic Party is unable to break its DEI stranglehold.

Democrats and political experts slammed the recent critiques against Harris and predicted the attacks would ultimately backfire on Republicans. 

“The right-wing transformation of ‘DEI’ into an epithet that denigrates people of color is deeply offensive,”  U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., wrote on X. “Kamala Harris is the vice president of the United States. The Biden-Harris ticket was voted into office by a majority of the American electorate. The insinuation that she did not earn the position, simply because she’s a Black woman, is not only factually wrong—it is profoundly racist.”

Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright told theGrio, “DEI is a substitute word that most of us who are Black know what they really want to mean.” 

The CEO of the political consulting firm Blueprint Strategy LLC said the “tactics” used by the GOP are “flippant, arrogant, [and] overtly racist.” He added, “After you get past disrespectful, you just have to note that it’s out of touch. Put her in any type of soil, and she will bloom where she’s planted.”

Glynda Carr, co-founder and president of Higher Heights for America PAC, a political action committee that works to elect Black women to office, said the statements made about Harris are “offensive” to her “body of work” as a public leader. 

(L-R) Glynda Carr and Kamala Harris attend the 2024 ESSENCE Festival Of Culture™ Presented By Coca-Cola® at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 06, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

She continued, “Not only her educational qualifications, [but also] her work qualification, [and] her lived experience.”

Carr, who on Saturday participated in an event alongside Vice President Harris at the Essence Festival of Culture, told theGrio, “The notion that one of the most qualified vice presidents’ qualifications are being called to question is offensive, and I think they’re not going to go unchecked.”

Carr noted that Black women in the “broader workforce” face similar barriers “every single day” as it relates to “questioning our qualifications and our experiences.” 

She predicted that the attacks would lead to a “galvanizing moment” for Black women to “speak up.” She added, “Not only in defense of the vice president but speak up about these ongoing narratives around Black women’s qualifications as leaders.”

Political commentator Reecie Colbert, who very publicly challenges narratives about Harris, noted that Republicans had been targeting her for years before she was elected vice president.

The host of Sirius XM’s “The Reecie Colbert Show” noted that during the 2020 election, Harris’ former colleague and former U.S. Senator David Perdue of Georgia made a gaffe by mispronouncing her first name.

“He brought the Black folks out, and Jon Ossoff won,” Colbert said of now-U.S. Senator Ossoff’s upset win. She added, “They’re really underestimating how much she is embraced in our community.”

Colbert said the chatter about whether Harris, a former U.S. senator, a former U.S. attorney general of California and state prosecutor in San Francisco, is qualified to be second in the presidential line of succession is “rooted in the proven electoral strength of Vice President Kamala Harris.”

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a post debate campaign rally, Friday, June 28, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ronda Churchill)

“They’ve seen the polling and the data that says that she is poised to beat Donald Trump if she were to be the nominee. They see that she’s stronger with independents,” said Colbert. 

Harris has particularly been able to “galvanize” Black Americans, people of color and young Americans, Colbert noted, evidenced by her engagements as vice president, including her “Economic Opportunity Tour,” which had a focus on Black men and entrepreneurship, and her “Fight for Freedoms” college tour that included visits to prominent HBCUs.

Colbert said Harris’ improvement in public polling is evidence of her strategy of direct, on-the-ground engagement with voters is working. 

Calling Harris a “DEI” or “affirmative action” hire, as some conservative voices have suggested, is racist and will more than likely cause Black voters and others to support her and President Biden’s re-election even more.

“People do not like overt racism. There is a certain rallying around and a cloak of protection that we want to envelop our people in,” said Colbert. “The worst thing to do is to let your slip show and be overtly racist.”

Seawright said that Harris “brings a wealth of experience” to the Biden-Harris ticket and “certainly compliments the president.”

“That’s why they make such a great team. She adds value in places and spaces where he cannot,” he argued. “That’s the role that the vice president should play. And I think that we have to do a better job in my party of elevating her her significance.”

Seawright said the Democratic Party would not have been able to achieve its electoral and legislative successes without Harris. “She is the key ingredient to all this,” he maintained. “I think history will note that, but I think we need to note that in real time today.”

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