The announcement of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice presidential nominee — the first Black woman and Asian person on a major party’s presidential ticket — was met with more racist and sexist stereotyping in media coverage compared to both major parties’ 2016 vice presidential nominees, according to a new report.
One quarter of coverage of Harris included racist or sexist tropes, such as describing the senator as too “uncooperative” or “ambitious,” according to the report from Time’s Up Now, the political arm of TIME’S UP, which advocates to end harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
“It demonstrates with numbers how normal we think it is for white men to run for these offices, and how unusual or subject to criticism we think it is for a woman of color to run for those offices,” said Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP Now. “You are therefore not talking about her actual qualifications for the job, or her position for the job, and that’s what handicaps women candidates, it’s what handicaps women leaders in multiple dimensions, not just in the political sphere.”
The report, which was released one day before Harris takes the debate stage against Vice President Mike Pence for the vice presidential debate in Utah, analyzed the two weeks of coverage after Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate. The coverage was compared to coverage of Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016, and then-Republican vice presidential nominee Pence.
Harris’ nomination was historic, and as a result, 61% of the coverage surrounding Harris mentioned her gender and race, compared to the 5% of coverage that mentioned Kaine or Pence’s gender and race in 2016. Instead, Kaine and Pence’s religious backgrounds were discussed more, in 20% and 17% of coverage, respectively, compared to Harris at just 1%.
Before Harris, who is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, was announced as the vice presidential nominee, several women leaders criticized the coverage surrounding the women, particularly Black women, on Biden’s list for his running mate.
Harris’ ancestry dominated 36% of the coverage surrounding her nomination. Her professional background and achievements followed at 31%. Comparatively, 35% of the coverage of Pence and Kaine focused on the two men’s career accomplishments.
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Among the racist and sexist language used in coverage of Harris, the report found that the “angry black woman” trope was used the most (13%), “largely fueled by reporting of President Donald Trump’s comments calling Sen. Harris ‘nasty,’ ‘mad’ and ‘mean.’ ” That was followed by 7% of the coverage that used citizenship or racial identity language, such as reporting on “birtherism” conspiracy theories and Harris’ ancestry. Six percent of coverage used language that oversexualized or underqualified the Senator’s merits, the report found.
Tchen warned that coverage focusing on coded language, like “ambitious” or “phony,” creates a negative image in the mind of voters.
“When they’re used against a woman of color running for high office, that could plug into our existing preconceived prejudices and stereotypes about women,” Tchen said. “When attached to a man, the word ambitious is actually a good quality. You’re seen as a leader and strong. And a woman is seen as out of her place.”
The vice presidential debate will be held Wednesday at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.