Let's not pretend David Perdue wasn't being racist about Kamala Harris

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Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia willfully mispronounced his Senate colleague Kamala Harris' name during remarks ahead of President Donald Trump's rally in Macon. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Perdue campaign said "Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris' name, and he didn't mean anything by it."

Posted: Oct 19, 2020 3:21 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2020 3:21 AM

Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican who is facing a tight reelection battle, intentionally mispronounced Sen. Kamala Harris' name at a Friday rally in Macon, Georgia, where he took the stage before introducing President Donald Trump.

The GOP Senator called the vice presidential candidate, and his Senate Budget Committee colleague whom he has served alongside for years, "Ka-MAL-a, Ka-MAL-a or Kamala, Kamala, Ka-mala, -mala, -mala, I don't know, whatever," drawing laughter from the crowd. (Harris herself has written that it's pronounced "'comma-la,' like the punctuation mark.")

Does anybody aside from Trump's toxic base find this racist behavior funny? The answer is no.

Sabrina Singh, Harris' press secretary, was quick to call out Perdue's behavior. "Well that is incredibly racist," she said on Twitter, urging voters to cast their ballots for his Democratic rival Jon Ossoff.

A spokeswoman for Perdue's campaign pathetically attempted to gaslight and defend the senator's remarks in a statement to CNN.

"Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris' name, and he didn't mean anything by it," said Casey Black. "He was making an argument against the radical socialist agenda that she and her endorsed candidate Jon Ossoff are pushing."

Black can keep her attempt to spin for her boss because too many immigrants and people of color across America have personal and painful stories of being bullied over our names. As the clip of Perdue quickly became viral online, people of color started sharing their traumatic experiences of being "otherized."

"Our names are a fundamental part of our identity and pride," Iranian-American news anchor Asieh Namdar tweeted. "They tell the story of who we are."

Many prominent Indian-Americans also started tweeting, using the hashtag #MyNameIs in response to Perdue.

Reading the responses to Perdue's intentional and insulting mockery of Harris' name was simultaneously therapeutic and traumatic for me. My Bangladeshi mother gave all four of her daughters Farsi names as an homage to the Persian Empire's cultural influence in the Indian subcontinent. I remember as a little girl how she used to tell me my name meant "gift from God," and how it swelled my little chest with so much pride.

Over the years I have heard a variation of meanings for my name, especially after marrying my Iranian husband, that range from "immortal" to "eternal," but my intense love for my name remains unchanged.

Even after living in America for over two decades, despite all the mockery and failed attempts at pronouncing my name correctly that still happen on a regular basis, I never submitted to the American need of giving anyone with a "difficult" sounding name a nickname. I am proud that I had the conviction and courage all these years to not allow people to call me "Anu" or "Annie." My name is Anushay. Learning or asking how to pronounce it correctly is a basic sign of respect and just common decency.

Although I was so brave and strong about defending my own name, when it came time to name our children both my husband and I were quick to make sure we chose names for our two daughters that would shield and protect them from the racist bullying we experienced living in America with our "difficult" names.

The point is we all have our own Perdue story. People with different and "ethnic" sounding names have all been ridiculed and mocked. That's why watching Perdue go after Harris triggered many of us because our names are a fundamental part of our identity. They tell the story of not only who we are but where we came from. They tell the story of America.

There is obviously also a larger dog-whistle at play here that's insinuating that names that sound foreign and non-White and are less American. But who gets to decide what names are American or not American enough?

As much as Trump and his Republican admirers might seem to want to take us back to an America of the past, their outdated racism shtick is reeking of GOP desperation to win the election at any cost.

Dear White Men: Learn how to pronounce Sen. Kamala Harris's name. She's not going anywhere -- and neither are immigrants in America.

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