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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Holvino: Hypervisibility

Emily Alfin Johnson
VPR file
Bennington Rep. Kiah Morris, right, withdrew from her reelection campaign due to racial harassment.

As a Latina Vermonter, I can relate to the super visibility Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has attracted since she became a congresswoman. The awkward images, memes and constant coverage suggest that her youth, beauty, intelligence, and perhaps most of all, her ethnicity, are the wrong combination for the media. Some of the more benign insults compare her to “an adorable 5-year old who needs to shut up,” or call her disrespectful nicknames like “o’socialist” and “o’crazy o.” And I’m sure you’ve heard by now how African-American Vermonter Kiah Morris resigned as state representative from Bennington, and didn’t seek re-election because she’d been threatened, stalked, suffered attacks to her property, endured the physical harassment of her family – and apparently no law could protect her.

So I was sad - but not surprised - to learn that the recently elected women of color in Congress, like Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, have had to come together to address the constant hate mail they’re receiving.

Research tells us there’s a kind of visibility that makes women vulnerable. It’s a hyper-visibility that enables even more pronounced harassment for women of color in leadership positions.

It takes the form of insults and attacks on their person, distortion of their public positions, online harassment and trolling, relentless use of stereotypical images, and maybe most unfortunate is how their comments and proposals are selectively targeted for ridicule and censure, while the same ideas supported by majority legislators are spared. The much criticized Green New Deal is co-authored with Sen. Ed Markey, a senior white male democrat who’s seldom mentioned in the attacks against Ocasio-Cortez.

But Congresswomen like Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and others represent the thirty-eight percent minority population of this country. So until it can be made 'safe' for women of color to assume leadership in politics, our much admired democratic ideals could be reduced to not much more than lip service.


Evangelina Holvino is a creative non-fiction writer and a free-lance consultant on issues of social differences and justice in non-profit organizations.
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