Kamala Harris Is Not Your Mammy — Or 'Momala'

Drew Barrymore asked the vice president to be "Momala" of the country, and I really wish she hadn’t.
Vice President Kamala Harris sits down with Drew Barrymore on the April 29 episode of "The Drew Barrymore Show."
Vice President Kamala Harris sits down with Drew Barrymore on the April 29 episode of "The Drew Barrymore Show."
CBS Media Ventures

I never know what to make of well-intentioned white liberals. They always seem so sincere despite their inability to recognize just how much they benefit from the status quo. The problem has always been what to do about it. If they renounce their privilege, it feels performative, and if they use it to advance people of color, then it feels like ham-fisted pandering.

Enter Drew Barrymore (always Drew Barrymore), who, on Monday, interviewed Vice President Kamala Harris on “The Drew Barrymore Show” and did the thing where she sits uncomfortably close to her guest during the interview. If you were at the ATM and someone got as close to you as Barrymore gets to her guests, you’d assume you were about to get jumped.

Anyway, Barrymore was sitting there under the vice president’s nostrils, and she was doing the white liberal thing of earnestness through sympathetic facial expression, and the two started bonding over being stepparents.

“I love Disney. However, Disney kind of messed that up,” Harris said. “You know, for a lot of us over the years, [there was] the evil stepparent.”

Harris shared that her bonus children call her “Momala” ― you know, a portmanteau of “Mom” and “Kamala.”

“It’s just not fair to [children] to put them in a situation where, intentionally or not, they are being manipulated around the adults’ weird relationships with each other,” the vice president said. “You have to sort that out.”

And then, with the kind of heartfelt, nurturing tone that only a well-intentioned white liberal can muster, Barrymore made the whole interview cringy AF.

“That’s a great segue to say that I keep thinking in my head that we all need a mom,” Barrymore said. “I’ve been thinking that we really all need a tremendous hug in the world right now. But in our country, we need you to be ‘Momala’ of the country.”

Do you feel that? That’s the part of you that’s saying, “No, Drew. Not like this.”

Momala. Of. The. Damn. Country.

Harris’ face, which was a mix of laughter and dread, said it all. Truthfully, this might have been the vice president’s single most impressive moment in public to date, because I’m not sure how she held it all together.

“Barrymore had the most powerful woman in the world on her couch, and she asked that woman, who is Asian and Black, to be America’s stepmom.”

Whether it’s Kendall Jenner handing riot police a Pepsi or Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats kneeling in kente cloth in the Capitol rotunda after the murder of George Floyd, some acts of white liberalism have always been, well, weird. It’s not that I don’t think they’re well-meaning, or sincere; they just never seem well thought out. At best, white liberals are the burglars in “Home Alone.” I really believe that they want to break in; they just don’t know how to outsmart that pesky kid. Or even better, white liberals have always reminded me of the slave master’s child. You know, the kid who loves the slave and who actually sees them as a full person, but isn’t big or strong enough to do anything about it. Except white liberals actually can do something about it ― they just always seem to get tripped up right around the actionable parts.

“The sign that change is real as opposed to symbolic is that people are making real changes to things close to them in their own backyards, such as supporting more affordable housing in their neighborhood, or programs that would integrate schools,” Matthew Delmont, author of “Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation,” told CNN in 2020.

“Broadly speaking,” Delmont said, “White Americans and other people with socio-economic status have to be willing to give up something to have a more just and equitable society.”

And when it comes to most white liberals, not only is that a bridge too far, but ― well, why do anything when there’s a Black woman who can do it for you? Just ask the 94% of Black women who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. In that same election, almost 50% of white women voted for Donald Trump. It seems unlikely that among all those Trump-voting white women, there weren’t any who didn’t describe or think of themselves as “liberal.”

But this probably wasn’t at the forefront of Barrymore’s mind when she hopped up on that couch, dangerously close to the vice president’s kneecaps, and declared that the country could use some good old-fashioned Southern hugs from a Black woman caring for a house that isn’t hers.

Think about it for a second. Barrymore had the most powerful woman in the world on her couch, and she asked that woman, who is Asian and Black, to be America’s stepmom. She didn’t call for policy change, or push for Harris to use her platform to inform viewers about the importance of November’s election. Nope, she asked the woman of color, who is already working hard enough to ensure that the Biden administration can defeat Orange Thanos, to hug America through it.

Harris has spent her entire time in the White House focusing on Black maternal health, an issue distorted by the belief long prevalent among doctors that Black women have thicker skin and can handle more pain than other women. As a result, Black women die during natural childbirth at more than three times the rate of white women. And here was Barrymore asking Harris to bear everyone’s pain for them ― literally the thing that is killing Black women.

While Harris handled the awkwardness with grace, I would’ve loved for her to say, “You know, Drew, you can do it. You can hug the country, too, ’cause you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”

Seriously, if Harris had said that, it wouldn’t have been too much of a leap from what Barrymore was asking. But I don’t think such a thing would have ever occurred to Barrymore in the first place. Not because she’s incapable of insight ― I just really suspect she’s one of those folks who still believe that you can stop violence with a hug and a kind word. Whatever a Karen believes, Barrymore believes the opposite. She is a Drew. Always a Drew.

If Barrymore had waited a beat, she might have realized that it doesn’t make a ton of sense in this situation to ask a Black woman to do yet more heavy lifting, above and beyond what she’s already responsible for ― or to do it on behalf of a country where lots of people don’t particularly care for her, and where some people say truly vile things about her.

I would hope that Barrymore would’ve considered that Black women have been tasked with raising other people for centuries. Moreover, as Tinseltown royalty, I would’ve liked for her to reflect on the decades-old history of mammifying Black women in Hollywood ― and then perhaps refrain from asking the Black vice president, who attended Howard University, one of the foremost HBCUs in the country, to be America’s mammy. And don’t make that face, that’s exactly what she did. (Also, not for nothing, but why is Barrymore, an adult, positioning herself and millions of other adults as the children of Harris or anyone else? Harris is 59 and Barrymore is 49, so what are we even doing here?)

I don’t think Barrymore had any malicious intent behind her remarks. But that doesn’t change the fact that white liberals can mean well and still cause ruckus when they are uninformed.

I know I sound like a crotchety old man, a cynic who just doesn’t believe in the power of good. But that’s because it’s early, and I’ve not had my Pespi, or my daily kneel in the garden draped in kente cloth, or a hug from a kind Black woman who is tired of trying to save us all.

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