Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, stands to make political history. She recently announced her intention to run for the House of Representatives, representing Illinois' 13th Congressional District in next year's primary against incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill). If she wins, she will be the first ever African American female Republican elected to Congress. Harold was recently attacked by fellow Republican, Montgomery County GOP Chairman, Jim Allen, who referred to her as a "street walker" and "love child of the DNC". He also dismissed the Harvard Law-educated Harold, currently employed as an attorney, as being nothing more than a token minority hire at her law firm. In his support of Rep. Davis, he insisted that Harold would lose the election and return to Chicago and work for a firm that needs to fill its "minority quota".
Jan. 1, 2011 - MISS AMERICA PAGEANT.ATLANTIC CITY,N.J. MISS AMERICA 2003 ERIKA HAROLD (Credit Image: © JOHN BARRETT/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)
The GOP has unfortunately earned a bad reputation when it comes to reaching out to people of color and representing their collective interests, and there are those within the party who recognize the need for diversity. I think the key to the future success of any political party is in its ability to appeal to as many eligible voters as possible, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Yes, African Americans overwhelmingly backed the Democratic Party, proven by the DNC winning, on average, 91% of the "Black Vote" during recent presidential elections (92% in 2000, 88% in 2004, 95% in 2008). However, there are plenty of African American voters who vote Republican and want to see their interests represented in government.
When I read this story, I became livid. I don't share Harold's political beliefs. In fact, I'm a liberal who leans very left and has little in common even with centrists, much less the political right. My reaction had nothing to do with her political views, however. What I saw was a woman, a Black woman specifically, being attacked and sexualized by someone who probably should be more supportive, given how negatively the GOP is viewed by many African Americans and women across America. It hurt me, as a multi-degreed, successful Black woman, to know that no matter how much education I may obtain, how many people I help, or how hard I work, some people will still see me as nothing more than a "streetwalker" or whatever other dismissive label they can come up with. The last thing the GOP can afford to do is alienate those who might come out to vote for an emergetic, highly educated young woman, who has already gained national attention by winning the coveted Miss America title. And yet... Jim Allen may have done exactly that.
There are a few issues at play here, related to beauty politics, race, and gender. Allen repeatedly referred to Harold as a "queen" and "queenie" in his email, referring to her pageant history, and I found that he was being dismissive of her because of her beauty. Women often face obstacles when they're deemed as being too attractive or pretty. Either they're dismissed as being stupid and incompetant, or people make assumptions about how they worked their ways up the ladders. In 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court voted 7-0 that a male dentist was within his rights to fire an assistant he found too attractive, fearing he'd be tempted to have an affair.
Allen also referred to Harold as a "streetwalker" which is another word for prostitute. Though I wish the perceptions of sex workers' humanity were different, I understand that referring to a woman as a prostitute or streetwalker is usually done so to insult and demean her character. African American women have long been either hypersexualized or asexualized in literature, film, music, and pop culture, so this struck me. Whether or not he used it to refer to her race or to her gender, it is unclear, but he sought to minimize her accomplishments either way, claiming she was being "pimped out" by the DNC. His references to her race and gender made it clear that he had a serious gripe with both, and that's terribly problematic for the GOP, especially now.
Erika Harold has the right to run for office and should not be subjected to insults because she is a beautiful Black woman. Politicians often run smear campaigns when they should focus on their own accomplishments and pointing out flaws in their opponents' platforms. In this case, Jim Allen took it to a new level of trash-talking and received enough negative backlash that he has since apologized and resigned. Rep. Davis and his team made efforts to distance themselves from Allen and GOP national chair Reince Priebus rebuked Allen's comments.
Given my political leanings, I probably wouldn't vote for Harold were I a resident of the 13th District in Illinois, but I wholeheartedly respect and support her right to campaign for what she believes in. That is the beaty of American democracy and our political system. If we want to bring about change, we should feel like we're able to do so by getting involved in government if we so choose. Attacks like these seek to silence our voices, as diverse as they are, and they are simply unacceptable.
I wish Erika Harold the best in her campaign and hope that, whatever the outcome, she is able to pursue her dreams of making political history, free of any more negative attacks on her race, aesthetic, and gender.
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