A Monday morning debate about white supremacy and the deadly Charlottesville riots it prompted turned into yet another example of white privilege when the former attorney general of Virginia told Symone Sanders, a Black woman, to shut up on national television.
In the CNN segment led by host Chris Cuomo, Sanders made a rather rational point about racism in America that seemed to ruffle Ken Cuccinelli, who disagreed wholly with her point.
“Charlottesville is an egregious symptom of what is wrong with parts of all of America,” the former campaign spokeswoman for Bernie Sanders said.
“I’m being factual and you are dismissing it.”
When Cuomo asked Cuccinelli to clarify his point of disagreement, Sanders interjected, pointing out that the riots resulted in the death of an American citizen.
“Can I finish, Symone? Can you just shut up for a moment?”
“Pardon me, sir!” Sanders responded. “You do not get to tell me to shut up on national television.”
After calling for a reset, Cuomo quieted both guests, telling the former AG “we don’t tell people to shut up on this show.”
“You don’t want to use language like that when talking to Simone,” Cuomo said of his guest, often a CNN contributor.
“How do you make them stop talking when they keep interrupting you?” Cuccinelli said, prompting Sanders to ask about the “them” in his statement.
The brief exchange, while infuriating, is emblematic of a larger issue — White men silencing Black women. We see examples of this dismissal and silencing not only on television and in our daily lives, but in our government. In June, during two separate Senate Intelligence Hearings, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was not only asked to be more courteous during her line of questioning, she was often interrupted to “allow” men to speak. At one point during Jeff Sessions’ hearing, he announced that her questioning made him “nervous,” suggesting that as the reason for his botched answers.
In Sanders’ case, it was her analysis of racism in America and her acknowledgement that people like Cuccinelli refuse to condemn White supremacy outright that made him unravel. It is Black women — direct, purposeful and factual — that prompt responses like those from Cuccinelli and Sessions.
And these responses, though they warrant one, are never granted sincere apologies.