Heading into Tuesday’s primary election, the Rhode Islanders had a typical election cycle — new candidates versus incumbents, a personal or political scandal here and there, televised debates, and so on. Our list of candidates for public office represents the greatest diversity that our local politics has known so far. So naturally, racism and sexism (expected in any election cycle) were at an all-time high.
In this election, instead of the media, political pundits and voters focusing on the rising cost of living, the abysmal housing market, climate change or corporate corruption, they are channeling their energy into attacking various candidates to simply exist as such. Never mind that we are one day away from the primaries and all this craziness ends in November. What matters is that the hardships and abuses faced by our black and brown women candidates will only be passed on to the next generation of political hopefuls if we do not act.
Earlier this year, State Senator Mack tiara, who is black and queer, has gone viral for posting a video of herself twerking. Instead of being received as a regular TikTok trend, she was harassed and abused on all social media platforms. For simply posting a video of herself dancing, which she has every right to do, she has received a flurry of death threats, despicable phone calls calling her the n-word and messages calling her a sexual deviant. targeting children.
His opponent Joseph Almeida said Mack was an insult to all women. Meanwhile, Almeida missed the debate against Mack a few days before the election. While Almeida’s decision barely made headlines, we can only imagine the vicious vitriol Mack would have been subjected to had she done the same.
Take a look at Nellie Gorbea, our Latina Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate. While his campaign is under daily scrutiny, everyone seems to have forgotten that our current governor and incumbent Daniel McKee is under investigation by the FBI. If Secretary Gorbea were under federal investigation, there is no world in which she would receive endorsements or gain the establishment support that McKee receives. Not to mention the privilege of presumed innocence.
Earlier this summer, we witnessed this assault on black women that resulted in a Senate candidate Jennifer Rourke physically assaulted by her GOP opponent — an off-duty police officer — during an abortion rights rally at the State House in Providence. We can debate politics left and right, but when those interactions turn violent, we all have a moral and social responsibility to stand up for what is right. Jennifer didn’t deserve this. No one deserves a violent response in a healthy democracy.
And let’s not forget Nirva LaFortune, the black candidate for mayor of Providence. A few weeks ago, the Providence Journal published a candid photo of LaFortune looking “angry.” This ignorant decision plays into a long-standing racist perception of black women as aggressive. Meanwhile, his male opponents were conveniently represented using their professional headshots.
Black, brown and female candidates in any part of the country are subject to relentless and perpetual cycles of discrimination, racism and sexism – from verbal to even physical. The scale of the assault doesn’t matter – racism is racism, and sexism is sexism – period. It’s time we call it.
These candidates not only expect to face indignities and depravities from the media, opponents and voters, but they are expected to accept and tolerate it. God forbid that they stand up against hatred and express their emotions to defend themselves; they will only suffer more abuse and hardship.
Senator Mack herself said: ‘As someone who experiences this firsthand, I can see why there is no longevity for black and brown women in politics because it is not sustainable for mental health. …there is a reason why white cis men thrive in politics, and it was only intended for them, because they created a hostile environment for others.
We must ask ourselves what is the point of participating in this democratic process and pretending to defend the principles of democracy when many around us cannot treat others democratically, let alone humanely.
With racism and sexism in all political arenas, we further deprive our diverse neighbors and community members of the proper representation they deserve and need to survive. You can’t claim to care about fairness, judicial reform, housing rights or decent wages if you don’t care about everyone’s humanity, whether you agree with them or not. Rhode Island will never experience substantial and tangible social, political and economic change if this is how we treat the representatives who work to bring about that change.
To these candidates and all others of diversity who sacrifice their time, energy and well-being to be our elected leaders:
- We see you.
- We honor you.
- We respect you.
- We thank you for devoting yourselves to serving your communities at all costs.
I will see you all at the polls.
Ray Nuñez is the founder of Nuñez: The People’s Agency, an anti-racism creative marketing agency serving progressive causes, corporations and candidates..