From The Washington Post:

[T]hat hasn’t stopped senators and newly minted presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — youngish politicos trying to appeal to even younger voters — from recently wading into the murky waters of cultural commentary, with similarly mixed results.

“Folks running for president in the digital age are controlled by memes and discourse that takes place online — it’s faster,” explains VaNatta Ford, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Williams College in Massachusetts. “They’re really trying to engage with millennials and Gen Z, and in order to do that they have to be hip to what’s happening.”

That’s how Harris and Booker (among other politicians) ended up becoming part of the Jussie Smollett saga. Smollett alleged that on Jan. 29 he was beaten in Chicago by two men yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Both senators described the attack in the very same way on social media: “a modern-day lynching.” Apparently a noose was involved. But there’s just one problem: Smollett’s case has been unraveling, according to Chicago police, who say the hoax was somehow tied to the actor’s salary on the Fox drama “Empire.”

Was this a misstep for the presidential aspirants? Ford says no, in part because this was more serious — and more political — territory than your average viral story. “To get out in front of it when it happened, that’s one thing politicians should be doing, calling out racism,” says Ford. “When it comes to standing up for the black LGBT community, being fast is never a bad thing. You can never go wrong with that.”


“They’re doing what politicians always do. The difference is they’re both black, and they’re both a little bit younger,” says Ford, who researches African American rhetorical traditions and hip-hop.

While it might appear that Booker and Harris are doing something new by appearing on “urban” radio and rapidly engaging with the news of the day on Twitter — much like social media and millennial superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — they are in fact following the same old playbook that has politicians eating ribs, sipping beer and heading to the county fair.

So there’s nothing wrong with the general idea of what Booker and Harris did — but the trick is to do it like a normal person and not someone’s imaginary hip best friend. Ford has some advice that every politician should heed. “One of the things they have to do a better job at is authenticity,” she says. Put another way: It’s best to leave the lingo to the millennials.

Nothing more authentic than EphBlog.

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