News of the pandemic took a backseat recently to Joe Biden’s announcement that Kamala Harris would be his running mate in November. After months of deliberation and conversation about requirements for and qualifications of the vice presidential candidate, the announcement came as the nation neared the mark of 90 days until the election, giving the duo just under three months to make their case. But we want to take a moment to look at the implications of Kamala Harris’ nomination in terms of gender, race, and the status of things in our country today.
Political Firsts in an Unprecedented Year
Harris is the first woman of color to be on a major party’s presidential ticket — while many have run for president earlier on in campaign cycles, this achievement is definitely something to celebrate. Biden’s commitments in the spring to choose a woman as VP, and then in the summer for that to be a woman of color, were certainly unprecedented and potentially controversial ones — shouldn’t a candidate pick the running mate most likely to win them the election, regardless of gender or race? Yes, and how often were we (particularly those with privilege — Whites, men, etc.) asking that question as positions of power have historically been reserved near exclusively for people who are White and male? But with the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests and demands for racial justice spurred on by the killing of George Floyd back in May, the demands of Black women for representation in their nation’s leadership were heard.
Certainly this choice is not just a win for Black women, but also South Asian women and immigrants, as Harris is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India. Harris may not be perfect — she has been criticized for her prosecutorial decisions in the past, is seen as part of the police establishment, and has been accused of flip-flopping on her earlier criticism of Joe Biden during primary debates — but her selection to be VP candidate still improves representation for women of color and, as Biden mentioned, allows little Black and brown girls to see that they can be president or vice president when they grow up. It also allows children of all ages and all genders to see and respect this.
Different Perspectives on Identity
Let’s be aware, though, what exactly we are celebrating with Harris’ nomination. Harris is Black, but is she African American (her father, born in Jamaica, is not identified as African America)? Her mother is Indian, and that heritage complicates her identity. As a mixed-race woman, Harris faces criticism about not being “enough” of anything — Black, Indian, Asian — and has faced a smear campaign accusing her of not really being Black. However, her mixed-race heritage is something to listen to her about… no one else has the authority to decide how Harris identifies. Learning to listen and allow individuals to claim and name their own racial identities helps strengthen our country and race relations on many fronts.
Finally, her closeness to her parents’ immigrant backgrounds, her having graduated from an HBCU, her prosecutorial background, her having lived in Canada, being married to a white lawyer, and more forther illustrates the complexity of what it can mean to be American. Her very existence on the Democratic presidential ticket is something to be celebrated!