Senator David Perdue (R-GA) is under great scrutiny after repeatedly mispronouncing Kamala Harris’ first name, the Democratic vice presidential nominee and his Senate colleague, at a rally for President Donald Trump on Friday.
The senator spoke before the President at a MAGA rally in Macon, Georgia, where he attacked leaders of the Democratic Party, including Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Perdue referred to Democratic ideology as “insidious.” He wrapped up his remarks with various iterations of Harris’ first name.
“Kah-MAH-lah or KAH-mah-lah or Kamamboamamla, I don’t know. Whatever,” Perdue said.
The audience, only some of whom were wearing masks, erupted with laughter and applause.
In her biography, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” Harris writes her first name is pronounced “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark.”
Democrats argue continued mispronunciation of Harris’ name is not only disrespectful, but blatantly racist. Harris’ supporters say the pattern is a deliberate effort by Republicans to portray Harris, the daughter of immigrants, as unfit for higher office.
“It is an effort to diminish her,” Fatima Gross Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center Action Fund, told the Washington Post. “It’s designed to signal difference,” she said.
Sabrina Singh, Harris’ press secretary, was quick to call out Perdue. “Well that is incredibly racist,” Singh posted to Twitter, urging voters to vote for Perdue’s Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff.
Perdue’s team released a statement after receiving criticism for his comments. “Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris’ name, and he didn’t mean anything by it,” said a spokeswoman for Perdue’s campaign.
The comment draws attention to the changing nature of the Republican Party, from traditional conservatism to Trumpist ideology, a right-winged populous appeal. Trumpism is seen by liberals and progressives as a form of oppression, a manifestation of the underwritten racial, gender, and class biases at the core of American democracy.
Perdue’s mispronunciation comes after months of Republican leaders mispronouncing Harris’ first name, since she became the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to be on a major party ticket. Analysts say Perdue was attempting to mirror Trump’s unfiltered language to garner support in his own re-election campaign.
Perdue was an early supporter of the president and “together they have changed the direction of our country and delivered the largest economic turnaround in history prior to COVID-19,” according to his official senate website.
However, adapting Trump’s divisive and sometimes blatantly racist speaking tactics may be counterproductive for the senator. Perdue faced intense backlash in the days following his appearance at the Trump rally. Harris supporters and Democratic leaders took to Twitter to condemn Perdue’s comments, creating the hashtag #MyNameIs for users to share the origins behind their own names.
“#MyNameIs Ilham, I prefer Ilhan. I never liked the M sound,” posted Rep. Ihan Omar, (MN-D), “It means ‘Inspiration’ in Arabic. My father named me Ilham and inspired me to lead a life of service to others.”
Perdue’s opponent Ossoff capitalized on this moment, posting that “Senator Perdue never would have done this to a male colleague. Or a white colleague. And everyone knows it.” Purdue’s Democratic challenger for Senate has raised nearly $2 million since Perude mispronounced Harris’ name.
Article Thumbnail: United States Senate, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons