In a recent 60 Minutes interview, newly sworn-in Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested a controversial revision to America’s progressive tax code. The modification she proposed—raising the marginal tax rate to 70 percent for high earners on income over $10 million—was met with alarm from top-brass conservative lawmakers and media outlets. House Minority Leader Steve Scalise instigated a Twitter battle on the subject, labeling her proposal as a way to strong-arm Americans into funding “leftist fantasy programs.” Despite such a policy having broad support from Americans, leading economists like Paul Krugman and even conservative figures like Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon, Ocasio-Cortez was slammed as “batsh*t insane” and radical.
The controversy over Ocasio-Cortez’s policy—despite its historical precedence— is just the latest example of women of color being held to a different standard of judgement and ridicule. Race and gender undeniably influence how seriously a person is taken and how credible their expertise appears to others. Any verbal slip-up or serious policy pronouncement from Ocasio-Cortez has been met with relentless beratement. Instead of being seen as an honest mistake, an out of context mistake she made while speaking on the three branches of government was scandalized and an interpreted as an indictment of her capacity as a lawmaker. Meanwhile, President Trump’s frequent public lies, numerous speaking blunders and reliance on briefings from the hosts at Fox and Friends are regarded as business as usual. Moreover, Paul Ryan has been lauded as a policy wonk and “intellectual leader of the Republican party” despite his radically austere policy positions and the fact he bases his political ideology off of novels written by Ayn Rand—a woman who spent her final years collecting assistance from government programs she branded fit only for “parasites.”
Despite Ocasio-Cortez’s policy prescriptions having support from not only her constituents but also large swaths of Americans, she is already facing blowback from even Democratic colleagues. Senator Claire McCaskill and former-Senator Joe Lieberman have publicly called for her to fall in line and rein in her firebrand behavior. This exemplifies yet another privilege that is not afforded to women of color. While John McCain was lauded for being a “maverick” despite constantly capitulating to establishment neoconservatives, mavericks who happen to be progressive women are deemed disorderly and radical. Another recent example of this in politics include Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who called Trump a “motherf*cker” and earned herself a top spot in cable news coverage. In fact, her remark was covered five times more than Steve King’s embrace of the term “white supremacy."
Being a victim of gendered attacks and doubt is a phenomenon not exclusive to Ocasio-Cortez; rather, being held to a different evaluative criteria is something that marginalized people deal with on a daily basis in all types of settings. At Duke and other universities, people of color and women across racial backgrounds are constantly evaluated in a way that their white or male peers are not. For students, this manifests frequently in affirmative action complaints that argue white candidates are robbed of college acceptances by less-qualified applicants of color. For faculty and graduate students, this often manifests in evaluation discrepancies; numerous studies have consistently shown how non-white, non-male professors received statistically worse performance reviews, regardless of their teaching ability.
The case of Ocasio-Cortez—along with countless other women who have faced similar scrutiny and undue and skepticism—illustrates the societal equation of logic and expertise to maleness and whiteness. White people—particularly white men—in their capacity as laborers, homemakers, leaders and so on are seen as espousing ideal qualities of objectivity and logical neutrality. White men have been constructed in American mythology as untouched by bias, the only true arbitrators of competence and aptitude. Ocasio-Cortez represents a clash with this mythos; her passion and policy agenda has been met with ire as a result. If her experience is any indicator, as more women of color continue to shake up the good-ol’-boys’ club in Washington, pushback from establishment types rooted in sexism and racism will only grow more prevalent.
This was written by The Chronicle's Editorial Board, which is made up of student members from across the University and is independent of the editorial staff.