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Tucker Carlson Refusing to Pronounce Kamala Harris’ Name Right Is a Microaggression

Tucker Carlson gestures wildly.

Fox News host and human bedsore Tucker Carlson reacted predictably to the announcement of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s VP yesterday: with bluster and racism. First, he claimed to be surprised by the choice (which makes him either an outlier or a liar, given that Harris had been the favorite and logical pick for VP for months). But the less surprising yet far more insidious thing was this: he refused to pronounce Harris’s name right, even when he was called out on it by a guest.

Here’s a clip (from CNN, for reasons).

“So what?” Carlson asked when he was told that Harris’ first name is pronounced “COMMA-la,” not “CAMEL-a” by former Clinton adviser Richard Goldstein. When told that it was the bare minimum of respect, Carlson doubled down, fuming: “OK, so I’m disrespecting her by mispronouncing her name unintentionally,” and going off about how he’s not allowed to “criticize her.”

Let’s talk, Tuck.

Being told that you should respect a person, and specifically that you should respect the first Black woman (and first South Asian woman!) to run as VP candidate on the Democratic ticket is not being told you can’t critique her. You’ll say whatever trash you want on your trash show, that’s what we expect from you, but you do have to treat her as a person. Names have power, and you have to say her name correctly.

When white people refuse to correctly pronounce the names of people of color, that’s a racist microaggression.

Kevin Nadal, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, speaking with NPR in June in the wake of the George Floyd protests, explained what a microaggression is:

Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.

The difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination or macroaggressions, is that people who commit microagressions might not even be aware of them.

Well, Tucker Carlson is more than aware of what he did—since he was corrected on-air—but his refusal to care is yet another microaggression that’s just as damaging. His dismissal of the matter signals to everyone (not just the Black woman he’s targeting), that to him Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to run as Vice President on a major party ticket, isn’t someone whose name he should be invested in pronouncing correctly. Even if Tucker Carlson had literally emerged from living under a rock yesterday and never heard Harris’ name pronounced in her long and well-publicized political career, as the host of a popular national television show discussing politics, you learn to say the Democratic VP candidate’s name. To do otherwise is dismissive, insulting, and wildly unprofessional.

And it doesn’t stop with Carlson, of course. The reigning king of racist aggression—both micro and macro—gave us a perfect example of how racism can infect and imbue language with poisonous double meanings, disrespect, and dehumanization.

Look at this garbage! The entire tweet is dog-whistle racism, threatening presumed delicate white women with what The New York Times has called “racist fears of terrorized suburbs,” a tactic that has a long and ugly history in America. And as a capper, he won’t even spell Senator Cory (no e!) Booker’s name right. And no, I’m not giving Trump the benefit of the doubt here because he’s a moron who can’t type. Both he and Carlson are intentionally refusing to even correctly name two Black Senators.

The racism and misogynoir that Kamala Harris is going to face in the next few months is going to be awful, but it also won’t always be overt. Each time some turd with a talk show like Tucker Carlson decides she’s not worthy of even the slightest effort to say her name right, it’s one more grain of sand that collects into a vast desert of this country’s bigotry.

So when your parents and grandparents refuse to pronounce Kamala right, don’t let them off the hook. Don’t let them brush it off with “so what” because, in order to combat and end systemic racism, we have to address and correct it in the biggest and smallest ways.

(image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.