Much Ado About ‘Brown’

OK, you've probably heard by now that Amber Athey, an editor for The Spectator, was fired from her spot on a Washington D.C. morning radio talk show because of a remark she made -- supposedly about the outfit worn by Vice President Kamala Harris at the State of the Union address.

You might recall that Harris, along with Nancy Pelosi, was seated behind Pres. Biden as he delivered his speech (which I posted about, the day after, in my newsletter; see "A Few Comments on Last Night's Speech"). You might recall that Vice Pres. Harris was attired completely in brown, and while it may not have been precisely the same shade as a United Parcel Service uniform or truck, it invited comparisons to the color associated with that worldwide delivery company. Amber Athey's quip on the topic, expressed via Twitter, invoked UPS's slogan, "What can Brown do for you?", and added, "Nothing good, apparently.

Days later, however, people apparently unhappy with other, unrelated political opinions expressed by Athey, raised a hue and cry about her UPS remark, characterizing it as bigoted and racist. And so, more than a week after the initial quip, Athey was summarily dismissed from the morning radio program on the grounds that she had violated the social media policy of the station, WMAL, and its parent company, Cumulus Media.

All the explanations I've heard, from Athey herself and from all those defending her, dismiss the allegations of racism as quite a stretch, on the grounds that her remarks dealt only with how Harris presented herself sartorially and then used that to allude to her poor performance as vice president.

But when I heard the quip, I had a different, although still decidedly non-racist take on the matter. I thought it was an allusion to how Kamala Harris's political career had gotten its start.

In 1994, when Harris, at age 29, first joined the Alameda County District Attorney's office, she was in a relationship with the most powerful man in California politics, who was at the time the Speaker of the California State Assembly (he occupied that office for 15 years) and was more than twice her age. He was married at the time, although legally separated; their relationship was quite public, and Kamala Harris was identified as his paramour, mistress, or girlfriend.

He went on to be mayor of San Francisco, and she went on to be that city's district attorney.

The man was, of course, Willie Brown. Brown, get it? What can Brown do for you? "Nothing good, apparently," except to use his considerable influence to help Harris advance her career, setting the wheels in motion for her to end up being foisted into a position a heartbeat away from the presidency (which, given what we've seen of her competence as vice-president, is something that many believe is anything but good for the country).

That was my interpretation of "What can Brown do for you? Nothing good, apparently." I didn't perceive a whiff of "racism." After all, "brown" is just a color and just a name; what if Harris's outfit had been, say, chartreuse, and UPS's uniforms and trucks were chartreuse, and its slogan were "What can Chartreuse do for you?", and Kamala Harris's amoroso and mentor had been Willie Chartreuse? C'mon, Man!

I actually thought "What can Brown do for you?" was a clever allusion, quite brilliant in its subtlety, to Harris's affair with Willie Brown. But Hey, what do I know?

Photo credit: YouTube screengrab (cropped)

Author's Note: Stu Tarlowe has, since 2010, contributed well over 150 pieces to American Thinker. For some 15 years he was the personal editor for the late Barry Farber; more recently he was a staff writer for a magazine forecasting political and societal trends, but when he had to be hospitalized for COVID he was replaced. Now recovered, he writes on a variety of topics (political and personal) in his newsletter at and is seeking another gig as a writer/editor/proofreader.

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