Bill Ackman’s Comments On Claudine Gay Are An Unabashed, Racist Attack And Clear Misogynoir


WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 05: Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Committee held a hearing to investigate antisemitism on college campuses. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Last week’s Congressional hearing on combating antisemitism on college campuses was certainly a troubling moment for Harvard University President Claudine Gay. After failing to state clearly that calling for the genocide of Jewish people or any one demographic group violates Harvard’s bullying and harassment rules, Gay swiftly clarified her remarks and apologized to the university community. Sadly, it only took a few hours for the conversation to turn from a legitimate debate about her comments and university policies around the limits of free speech to ugly, unfettered racist attacks – most prominently from investor and Kyle Rittenhouse apologist Bill Ackman.

Ackman wrote on X that he “learned from someone with first person knowledge of the Harvard president search that the committee would not consider a candidate who did not meet the DEI office’s criteria,” adding that Gay would not have found herself in the role without a “fat finger on the scale.”

While I wish it were not necessary, let me set the record straight. President Gay’s resume is exemplary. She earned an undergraduate degree at Stanford University and was awarded the Anna Laura Myers Prize for best senior thesis in the Economics Department. She earned a Ph.D. at Harvard, then served three years as Harvard’s Dean of Social Science before becoming the Faculty of Arts and Science Edgerley Family Dean.

Whatever you think about current events, there can be no dispute over her qualifications.

Why, then, did Ackman and others shift their rhetoric? It’s a very specific kind of microaggression and dog whistle, one that Scholar and Professor Moya Bailey has termed misogynoir – a type of oppression and discrimination uniquely experienced by Black women.

Make no mistake: Ackman’s statement on President Gay and equating diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to modern-day McCarthyism have nothing to do with combating antisemitism. Rather, Ackman is choosing to inflame “anti-woke” culture wars against the most visible Black woman he could target.

This strategy is patently offensive. It undermines the true purpose and goal of diversity programming and devalues the hard work and accomplishments of President Gay and every other Black woman in a position of power and influence.

Ackman’s tactic is a page out of a very familiar playbook. Black women are frequently targets of right-wing attacks in a coordinated effort to undermine civil rights. There are legal challenges around the country seeking to effectively dismantle programs intended to address historical and systemic discrimination and bias.  In fact, I currently serve as co-counsel with a talented group of lawyers in defense of the Fearless Fund and Fearless Foundation. The organizations face an ongoing lawsuit against their grant program that supports Black and Women of Color-founded businesses. The Global Black Economic Forum is one of many economic and social justice organizations that are staying especially vigilant toward actions that continue to foment harassment against Black women.

Ackman can be held accountable for his actions. His hedge fund, Pershing Square, is a major investor in Chipotle, Lowe’s, Popeyes and Burger King, among other major consumer brands.  Black women have the power to decide whether these brands should continue to earn their patronage – and the boards and employees of these companies can speak up as well. 

The conversation currently playing out about combating antisemitism on college campuses is an important one, and criticism about Harvard University President Claudine Gay’s Congressional testimony has an appropriate place in our public discourse. What is not appropriate are blatant, racist attacks on an accomplished Black woman’s credentials.

Misogynoir is not a new experience for Black women – but Black women have long memories.  Companies aligned and connected with Bill Ackman must remember too – and hold him accountable for his actions.

Alphonso David is the President and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum


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