Purposefully mispronouncing Sen. Kamala Harris’ name has emerged as a very common way for President Donald Trump’s allies to attack the Democratic ticket. But Sen. David Perdue took that even further Friday when he mocked Harris’ name in such a derisive way that it immediately led to accusations of racism. Perdue was warming up the crowd before the president’s campaign rally in Macon, Georgia. when he started referring to the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate: “Ka-ma-la, Ka-ma-la, Kamala-mala-mala, I don’t know, whatever.” The crowd laughed.
Many were quick to point out that Perdue serves on the Senate Budget Committee with Harris so it seems highly unlikely that he wouldn’t know how to pronounce his colleague’s name in the first place. “Sen. David Perdue has served in the Senate alongside vice-presidential nominee and Senator Kamala Harris since 2017. He knows her name and he knows how to say it,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Helen Kalla wrote in a statement. Kalla went on to say that the “disgusting performance” was “nothing more than a desperate dog whistle from a losing politician.”
Perdue is locked in a tight reelection race against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, who was quick to criticize the senator for his mockery. “This kind of vile, race-baiting trash talk is what President Trump has unleashed from sitting Republican members in the Senate,” Ossoff said on MSNBC. Ossoff sent out several tweets with the video of his opponent mocking Harris. “Senator Perdue never would have done this to a male colleague. Or a white colleague,” Ossoff wrote.
Harris’ press secretary, Sabrina Singh, called the comment “incredibly racist.” She wasn’t alone. “Senator Perdue’s intentionally disrespectful mispronunciation of Senator Harris’s name is a bigoted and racist tactic straight from President Trump’s handbook,” Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said. “He owes Georgians an apology for his offensive display.”
Perdue spokesman John Burke tried to downplay the whole thing, implying that everyone was reading too much into the senator’s words. “Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris’ name, and he didn’t mean anything by it,” he said.
Support our 2020 coverage
Slate is covering the election issues that matter to you. Support our work with a Slate Plus membership. You’ll also get a suite of great benefits.Join Slate Plus