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On Courtesy, Race, Gender and the 45 Defensive


Courtesy flew out of the window in Washington parlance a long time ago. The minute a deranged Congressman stood up and hollered, “you lie” at a sitting President (this was South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson yelling at President Barack Obama), we knew that courtesy had taken a vacation. Courtesy took more than a time out when we had a Presidential candidate bragging about grabbing p***y and calling our Mexican American brothers and sisters rapists. Courtesy was even more far gone when 45 attacked Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (D-GA) because of a disagreement. But courtesy was really kicked to the curb when Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) had the audacity to scold his colleague, the scintillating Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) because she was theoretically not courteous to the dissembling liar, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, when she asked pointed questions about the firing of former FBI director James Comey. As she became aggressive, which was her right, Senator Burr, who asked that Mr. Rosenstein be treated “with courtesy,” admonished her.

What is courtesy? A dictionary defines it as “excellence of manners or social conduct”, “polite behavior,” “courteous, respectful or considerate acts,” “Indulgence, consent, or acquiescence.” A senate hearing is not the place to have “indulgence.” It is not the place to, necessarily, offer acquiescence. It is the place to ask hard questions and to demand uneasy answers. It is not the place, apparently, for an intelligent African American woman to do her job; given that Senator Richard Burr seems to think that Black women don’t get to ask hard questions.

We’ve been down this road before. A couple of months ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was shut down when she attempted to read a letter that the late Coretta Scott King wrote about current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Her colleagues voted to halt her remarks because of some obscure rule that prevents Senators from criticizing their colleagues. More importantly, they voted to treat her in a way that they had treated no man; just like they voted to scold Senator Harris.

Senator Harris will not back down from her senatorial detractors. A seasoned prosecutor, who has clawed her way up the political hierarchy in California, is a woman who does not play. She didn’t back down, and she won’t back down. All she wants, and all we want, are answers about what has happened about the Comey firing, the FBI investigations, and more. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is entitled to push as aggressively as required, and she must be allowed to have no pushback. How dare Richard Burr chastise her about courtesy? We are experiencing the most discourteous Presidential administration that we ever have. Seasoned politicos remember the Reagan administration as an ideological shift, but not a total absence of courtesy. Reagan, totally flawed, was at least affable. 45 is a mean, myopic, narcissistic, odious and rude man. And his minions, like Richard Burr, are especially going to have his back when a Black woman is pushing the envelope. Several other Senators, equally pointed, were allowed to go after the liars. Only Senator Kamal Harris was pushed.

I am lifting up Senator Kamala Harris, and reminding myself of the words she offered at her victory party on November 8, 2016. She said, “It is the very nature of this fight for civil rights and justice and equality that whatever gains we make, they will not be permanent. So we must be vigilant,” Harris said. “Do not despair. Do not be overwhelmed. Do not throw up our hands when it is time to roll up our sleeves and fight for who we are.”

Senator Kamala Harris is fighting for us, and we have got to have her back. Shame on Senator Richard Burr and the others who would silence her. Why would they muzzle her, but not their male colleagues? There should be no indulgence here, no acquiescence. Senator Kamala Harris should not back down, break down, stand down. She is fully within her rights to fight oppression. This is about race, and gender, and the power of patriarchy. This is the ugliness that we must fight.

Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author in Washington, D.C.