Biden supporters weigh in after GOP senator mocks Kamala Harris’s name

WASHINGTON — After Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., mocked Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’s name, supporters of the Democratic ticket responded with a viral Twitter campaign that decried Perdue’s comments as “backhanded racism.”

The social media push included a tweet from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Biden, a coalition of grassroots groups backed by the campaign, that blasted Perdue and encouraged supporters to share the stories of their own names with the #MyNameIs hashtag. 

“We can all relate to this kind of backhanded racism — which is still racism and wrong,” the Biden coalition wrote. “KAMALA means Lotus Flower in Sanskrit. Our names have meanings. We matter.”

Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, would achieve a string of historic firsts if elected vice president: the first Indian-American, first woman and first Black person to serve in that role. 

Perdue made his comments on stage at a Friday rally in Georgia moments before President Trump was set to take the stage. The senator, who sits with Harris on the Senate Budget Committee, said he didn’t know how to say her first name and botched it while Trump supporters laughed. 

“Kamala, or Kamala, or Kamala, or Kamala-mala-mala,” Perdue said, emphasizing different syllables. “I don’t know. Whatever.” 

Following backlash over the remarks, Perdue’s campaign issued a statement saying he “simply mispronounced Senator Harris’s name, and he didn’t mean anything by it.” 

The Biden and Harris supporters who posted on the hashtag started by the campaign’s Asian-American group clearly didn’t buy that explanation. The hashtag went viral with celebrities, political figures and others sharing the roots of their names. Harris’s niece, the lawyer and author Meena Harris, was among those who joined the push. 

“#MyNameIs Meenakshi. I’m named after the Hindu goddess, as well as my great great grandmother,” she wrote. “I come from a long line of strong women who taught me to be proud of my heritage and to demand respect — especially from racist white men like @sendavidperdue who are threatened by us.”

15 PHOTOSSen. Kamala HarrisSee GallerySen. Kamala HarrisUNITED STATES – MAY 22: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., makes her way to the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on May 22, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) arrives for a town hall meeting in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 5, 2018.REUTERS/Bob StrongWASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14:Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) talk during a hearing about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. Federal Bureau of Investigation Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich testified that the FBI could have and should have done more to stop the school shooter Nikolas Cruz after it receieved several tips about him.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) holds a town hall meeting in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 5, 2018.REUTERS/Bob StrongSenator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks about the Senate Intelligence Committee findings and recommendations on threats to election infrastructure on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua RobertsCalifornia gubernatorial candidate, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom arrives with Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) at a campaign rally in Burbank, California, U.S. May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy NicholsonWASHINGTON, DC – MAY 23:U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (2nd L) shares a moment with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) (R) as Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) (L) looks on during a news conference on immigration in front of the U.S. Capitol May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. Sen. Harris, joined by other female Democratic congressional members, held a news conference ‘to show support for immigration and refugee policies that protect the rights and safety of women and children.’ (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 23:U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (C) speaks during a news conference on immigration in front of the U.S. Capitol May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. Sen. Harris, joined by other female Democratic congressional members, held a news conference ‘to show support for immigration and refugee policies that protect the rights and safety of women and children.'(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)US Senator Kamala Harris attends the United State of Women Summit at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, on May 5, 2018. (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS / AFP)(Photo credit should read CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14:Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) questions witnesses during a hearing about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. Federal Bureau of Investigation Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich testified that the FBI could have and should have done more to stop the school shooter Nikolas Cruz after it receieved several tips about him.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 25:Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a news conference with fellow Democrats, ‘Dreamers’ and university presidents and chancellors to call for passage of the Dream Act at the U.S. Capitol October 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and has asked Congress to find a solution for the status of the beneficiaries of the program, called ‘Dreamers.'(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 18:Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) walks to the Senate chamber for a series of 6 roll call votes regarding the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Resolution on Capitol Hill, on October 18, 2017 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 13:Senate Intelligence Committee members Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (C) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (R) arrive for a closed-door committee meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Some members of the committee have demanded that Donald Trump, Jr. testify before the intelligence committee after it was revealed that he and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in hopes of getting opposition information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 27: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)(L) walks with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (C), to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence closed door meeting at the U.S. Capitol, on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.The committee is investigation possible Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 16:Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) heads for her party’s weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Many Republican and Democratic senators expressed frustration and concern about how President Donald Trump may have shared classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister last week at the White House.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Up Next

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Multiple senior Biden staffers also weighed in, including former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, who works as the campaign’s director of surrogates.

“#MyNameIs Michelle Wing Kwan & in Chinese pinyin it’s pronounced Guan Ying Shan. It means beautiful, strong and smart. What’s not beautiful, strong or smart is mocking ppl for their ‘foreign sounding’ names,” Kwan wrote.   

Some of the people who tweeted about Perdue’s comments invoked former Virginia Sen. George Allen’s 2006 “macaca moment,” in which the Republican lawmaker used the racial epithet against an Indian-American volunteer for his opponent. The incident was widely seen as pivotal to Allen’s subsequent defeat. 

“#MyNameIs Seema, which means ‘limit.’ It’s ok (but hard) to mispronounce my name, but mocking an Indian name in 2020 is just as wrong as it was in 2006 (remember when George Allen called a Sen. Webb staffer macaca and welcomed him to America?). Vote. Them. Out,” wrote former Democratic National Committee CEO Seema Nanda. 

“#MyNameIs Daniel Dae Hyun Kim, or in Korean, 김대현. It means ‘great and powerful one.’ My name is not ‘Macaca’ or ‘Kung Flu.’” wrote “Lost” actor Daniel Dae Kim. “And @sendavidperdue, her name is not ‘Kamala Mala Mala I Don’t Know Whatever.’ #Respect. One more reason to vote for @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris.”

According to the Twitter analytics service RIteTag, as of Sunday morning, the hashtag was generating 483 tweets per hour and reaching over 950,000 viewers hourly. 

For its part, the Trump campaign has not responded to questions about Perdue’s comment. The Biden campaign has also refrained from issuing a direct statement on the matter.

Asked about this, Pili Tobar, Biden’s coalitions community director, framed the social media defense of Harris as an outgrowth of the campaign’s efforts to engage Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.

“We’re proud to have earned the community’s trust and support,,” Tobar told Yahoo News. “Now they’re excited to be part of a campaign that is committed to building the broadest coalition and uplifting their voices.”

The Biden campaign has made a point of reaching out to Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and South Asians, a diverse group that has not always received tailored outreach. While polling focused on the community is sparse, the third annual Asian-American Voter Survey, released last month, showed Biden has an advantage with multiple Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. That survey also indicated there are substantial numbers of undecided voters in the community, making it a potential growth area for the Democratic ticket. The Biden campaign’s efforts on this front have included a historic television ad buy and targeted pitches with a policy platform that has been translated into 19 languages. “AAPIS For Biden,” the campaign organization that launched the #MyNameIs hashtag, includes Thai Americans for Biden, Hmong Americans for Biden, and AAPI Veterans and Military Families for Biden. 

The network of grassroots supporters in the community similarly rallied around Harris with a hashtag campaign during the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7. 

Harris’s sister, the lawyer and Democratic activist Maya Harris, responded to the Twitter outpouring on Saturday evening and described it as a moment for people from diverse communities to demonstrate their political power. 

“Scrolling through #MyNameIs at the end of a long day & it’s giving me life. My name is Maya (magic/illusion) Lakshmi (goddess of beauty & wealth),” she wrote. “People mispronounce my names all the time, but you can’t tell me nothin’. I know who I am. Show these folks who we are.”

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