Kamala Harris Isn’t “Overconfident,” She’s Running for President

Wednesday night’s Democratic debate got a lot of folks worked up, including Grey Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo who took to Twitter to express her frustrations

Kamala Harris

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Office of Senator Kamala Harris

Wednesday night’s Democratic debate got a lot of folks worked up, including Grey Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo who took to Twitter to express her frustrations. While many would agree that Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. may be the nominal leader, his performance on stage was quite weak. But Pompeo’s focus seemed to be on Kamala Harris’ performance, who she accused of being “overconfident.” The actress is clearly not familiar with Black twitter because boy did they come for her after that — she definitely got dragged. Pompeo’s accusation speaks to a much larger issue though. The idea that Black women are only allowed a certain amount of confidence. It also plays into the harmful “angry, aggressive Black woman stereotype.”

Pompeo’s tweet was a response to a Bloomberg tweet suggesting that an “emerging trend” in the debate was that “Kamala Harris very clearly only wants to debate Joe Biden.” Pompeo responded by tweeting: “Because she’s overconfident and believes he is her only competition.”

If Pompeo would have simply tweeted something along the lines of Harris thinking Biden is her only competition, no one would have come at her. But the accusation of Harris being “overconfident” is what put her into deep waters with Black twitter. Folks went in on her — many accusing her criticism as racist.

Pompeo responded to quite a few people, swearing up and down that there was nothing racist about her tweet. She may not have consciously thought the tweet was racist (after all Pompeo who is married to black musician Chris Ivery, isn’t afraid to talk about racial issues) but the labeling of a strong confident Black woman being referred to “overconfident” is an issue many WOC — Black women especially — constantly have to deal with. Black women have for centuries been conditioned to believe that they need to yield to White men. If they are confident, they need to tone it down around the White man, otherwise, they are immediately stereotyped to be angry, aggressive, and overconfident because god forbid a Black woman assertively speaks her mind in the presence of a White man.

Not sure why my comment is now a racial comment… so weak… two people on a stage with a bunch of others they all came off a certain way and they are up there for interpretation… stop looking for shit to get mad about,” Pompeo later tweeted. 

First off, if you’re on Twitter you should know by now that peeps on Twitter are always looking for something to get mad about. So that’s one. Secondly, everyone on that stage came off tough and confident — some even arrogant. Let’s just think about how this sounds for a second. A strong Black woman who came over-prepared for a debate because she’s trying to run for president of the United States of America is being accused of being overconfident. That’s interesting. Would you vote for someone who didn’t come off as confident or didn’t fully prepare for a debate? I don’t think so. And yet out of all the confident people on that stage, the strong and qualified Black woman’s confidence is the one that came off “overconfident” or in other words — threatening. We saw similar language used when Barack Obama was running for president. Many referred to him as “eloquent,” almost surprised by the fact that a Black candidate actually knew how to intellectually express himself. Have you ever noticed how White male candidates are often never referred to as “overconfident” or “eloquent?” It’s because people don’t find an overconfident or eloquent White male as threatening. 

Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise as we’ve seen powerful Black women accused of being angry, overconfident, or aggressive quite often. At last year’s 2018 US Open final against Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams was accused of being angry and aggressive after speaking out against the umpire who gave her a few violations because he felt she was cheating, even though she claims she was not. Many referred to her speaking out as “a meltdown.” In a cover issue with Harper’s Baazar, Williams opened up about why she felt the need to be her own advocate and why that was especially important to her being a Black woman. She was deeply affected by the sexism and racism that she faced in that incident.

I feel passionately compelled to stand up for myself,” she wrote in her Harper Baazar’s essay. “I call him a thief; I again demand an apology. I tell him he is penalizing me for being a woman. He responds by issuing a third violation and takes a game from me. In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title. I could not have been happier for her. As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love — one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has been referred to as an angry Black woman numerous times. She addressed it during a sit down with Gayle King at the 25th Essence Music Festival in New Orleans where she promoted her memoir and best-selling book Becoming.

It was important to tell that part of the story because they see me and Barack now, but they don’t know how many punches it took us to get there,” she said. “People from all sides, Democrats and Republicans, tried to take me out by the knees. And the best way they could do it was to focus on the strength of the Black woman, so they turned that into a caricature … For a minute there, I was an angry black woman who was emasculating her husband.”

Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Serena Williams — even Oprah — are just a few of the many Black women who have had their strength, their assertiveness, and their confidence labeled as angry, arrogant, or “overconfident.” It’s a label that many Black women or women of African descent still struggle with — especially in professional settings. Whether it was conscious or not, Pompeo’s tweet fed into that same mindset that Black women have been fighting to break. But all of these women are also examples of Black women that have actually used their anger, their assertiveness, and their passion for good. Had one of the other White men on the stage debated Biden the way Harris did, would Pompeo have accused him of being “overconfident?” Probably not, considering we have always accepted White men as being “overconfident,” while not creating space or room for women — Black women in particular — to openly and unapologetically express theirs. What’s especially upsetting is how White women are often given more room to assert themselves and express their passion or rage over things — the #MeToo movement is a prime example of this.

When we see White women assert their rage it is seen as political, radical, and empowering. But when Black women assert their rage or passion, it is often stereotyped into being angry, emasculating, and threatening. Something about how Harris chose to debate or question Biden clearly came off as emasculating to some and that alone is problematic. Society tries to control and tone down a Black woman’s anger, confidence, or assertiveness, in an effort to make themselves — white men especially — feel less threatened and more comfortable. To allude that Harris is “overconfident” is to claim that she is more confident than she should be. That she is more assertive than she should be and that she is probably less knowledgeable, intelligent, experienced, or capable than she thinks — which we all know is absolutely false. Harris is just as experienced, qualified, and intelligent — if not more — than many of the others that shared the stage with her on Wednesday night. And that fact alone seems to make some folks hella uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing, it’s 2009 and this story that the world wants to continue to sell regarding Black women and their anger is getting old. We won’t stand for it. We will no longer accept it as a cultural norm. It is time for society — white women included —yes, Pompeo we’re looking at you —  to begin to challenge the fears they have around strong Black women and finally do their part in ending these harmful and perpetuating stereotypes that we are beyond tired of hearing.

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