By Rindha Sudhini
What do all these headlines have in common? You guessed it: racism and sexism, holding hands like old friends!
While most results are certified, there’s something about the 2022 election cycle that remains unsettled and unsettling: News organizations, pundits, political operatives, and candidates scrutinized and demeaned women of color candidates and elected officials in ways other political figures will never have to worry about. And this bigotry was no mistake nor has it died down.
This year, we saw on full display the willful and intentional misrepresentation of women of color candidates based on racial and gender stereotypes. That misrepresentation was intent on not only hurting their campaigns… but in some cases, endangering their lives with explicit threats of violence.
This is chillingly and disappointingly all too common. It’s disgusting and unacceptable.
What happened this year in Iowa is one prime example.
Governor Kim Reynolds ran for re-election against Democratic candidate Deidre DeJear—the first Black woman to receive a major party nomination in Iowa’s governor race.
During her campaign, Governor Reynolds aired an ad that looked to create deliberate negative associations between different Black women. The ad opened with a clip of U.S. Representative Cori Bush from Missouri advocating for defunding the police, an important issue that has become a dog whistle for many conservatives
Now you may be asking yourself, what does an elected leader from Missouri have to do with DeJear?
Representative Bush has no relation to DeJear. Representative Bush (of Missouri) has no relation to Iowa. Her only connection is that she is a Black woman like DeJear. Placing Representative Bush in this ad was a calculated decision made so that Iowa voters would negatively associate Black women—specifically candidate Deidre DeJear—with defunding the police.
If you aren’t yet convinced of the ad’s racist intent, it also featured an image of Professor Khiara Bridges, another Black woman, testifying on the overturning of Roe v. Wade in front of a U.S. Senate Committee. Note that Professor Bridges has no connection to Iowa and is not even running for office.
The strategic and deliberate placement of not one, but two Black women that have no relation to the race in Iowa illustrates the fear-mongering that political operatives and the media will leverage to discredit Black women leaders and the policies they advocate for.
DeJear also pointed this out, as she responded to the messaging intent of the ad, stating: “I saw what my opponent was doing; Not only was she [Gov Reynolds] trying to stoke and divide within our party, she was trying to stoke and divide between women who had never even met each other before.”
This isn’t new.
Governors Reynolds’ campaign ad does not stand alone in its misrepresentation of women of color candidates. The three headlines at the start of this blog are separate incidents that targeted women of color leaders in the 2022 election cycle.
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran for reelection in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Her campaign was marred with violent threats from Republican colleagues, sexual harassment, and the ridiculous notion that she has to be married if she wants to run for President.
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar ran for reelection in 2022 for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. She was attacked online for wearing a hijab, as opponents cited separation of church and state as reason enough to not wear the head covering.
Though she is not currently running for office, Vice President Kamala Harris has also been the target of consistent scrutiny and even had her involvement in campaigning for the Democratic party increasingly limited. Democratic campaign officials have opted to invite Pete Buttigieg to speak on trial instead, as Republicans do not target and scrutinize every word he says as they do for Vice President Harris.
The pattern is clear: The media and political classes are misrepresenting and targeting women of color leaders at the intersection of their gender and race.
This directly and adversely impacts women of color candidates.
This intentional misrepresentation and constant scrutinization of women of color leaders not only erode their credibility and misinform the public, but could also discourage women of color from getting involved in politics.
This does not mean that it falls on women of color candidates to fix this problem. They are under attack—and the very least we can do is fight back.
It’s on all of us to push back and change the narrative.
I’ll be honest, before writing this blog, I was mostly unaware of how pervasive this racist and sexist culture was. But now that I know—and you do, too—it falls on us to take action.
In an ideal world, campaigns and media coverage would simply… stop being racist and sexist.
This is not going to happen, which is why we must all be vigilant about the ways in which we let leaders, strategists, news organizations, and the pundits cover our communities and our leaders as well as the ways in which we consume and uplift these information brokers. This is how we can build a world that will have more women of color lawmakers—and achieve a democracy that fully represents the diversity of our country.