Georgia senator David Perdue is facing backlash for mockingly mispronouncing Sen. Kamala Harris’s name at a Trump campaign rally on Friday, with many calling his remarks racist.
“Ka-MAL-a, Ka-MAL-a or Kamala, Kamala, Ka-mala, -mala, -mala, I don’t know, whatever,” Perdue said as the crowd in Macon, Georgia, burst into cheers and laughter before he introduced President Trump.
That moment from his speech instantly went viral, and it was widely criticized on social media.
Perdue’s communications director, John Burke, tweeted that the senator “simply mispronounced” Harris’s name “and he didn’t mean anything by it.”
But many expressed doubt that Perdue would mispronounce the name of a colleague who sits on the Senate Budget Committee with him, and has served alongside the Republican lawmaker in the US Senate for years.
The statement from Perdue’s office dismissing the incident also drew more anger. Many people of color shared their own stories of others ridiculing or mispronouncing their names.
By Saturday, many people were using the hashtag #MyNameIs in response to Perdue.
Conservatives have dismissed the pronunciation of Harris’s name in the past, too. In July, when a guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show told the host he was saying Harris’s name incorrectly, Carlson responded, “OK, so what?”
Perdue, however, is facing backlash amid a close reelection fight against Democrat Jon Ossoff, who criticized him Friday and later fundraised off of his opponent’s comments.
“This kind of vile, race-baiting trash talk is what President Trump has unleashed from sitting Republican members of the Senate,” Ossoff said on MSNBC that night.
It’s not the first time the Republican senator has come under fire over racial issues. In July, his campaign ran an ad on Facebook that featured Ossoff, who is Jewish, with an enlarged nose.
“This is the oldest, most obvious, least original anti-Semitic trope in history,” Ossoff tweeted at the time.
Perdue’s campaign said it was an “unintentional error that distorted the image.”
“Anybody who implies that this was anything other than an inadvertent error is intentionally misrepresenting Senator Perdue’s strong and consistent record of standing firmly against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate,” his campaign said, adding that the ad had since been removed.