Instead of Focusing on Kamala Harris’ Race, Let’s Focus on Her Historic Rise and the Women Who Paved the Way
Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-California) is the new Vice President elect of the United States. The 2020 Presidential election results were called earlier this week by a number of verifiable news outlets. Harris, an HBCU graduate is the first woman and first Black woman to be elected Vice President. It is an historic position to be in. She and President Barack H. Obama have the position of “first” in common. Unfortunately, what they also have in common is America’s obsessive focus on their ethnic background and parentage. But why is this? Isn’t it enough that Kamala Harris is American? Understanding the political and racial history in the United States, sadly it is not enough for some.
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20, 1964 to immigrant parents — a Jamaican (Caribbean) father, Donald Harris, and an Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris. She was born in Oakland, California. She graduated from Howard University, an Historically Black College and University in Washington, DC. Harris graduated from U.C. Hastings College of Law. Harris will be the only woman to ascend to the role of Vice President, achieving something that no other woman — white, Black, or other ethnicity has.
Harris’ background has long been questioned and examined before this momentous occasion. But her rise was inevitable because America is poised and ready for a woman leader like Kamala. One with the kind of educational, professional, and ethnic background that lends itself to her understanding the struggles of oppressed groups and the aspirations of many. Having come from a diverse racial and cultural parentage, her education at an historically Black university and membership in an esteemed Black women’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha has given Harris the kind of cultural footing in the Black community that is needed to both communicate effectively and empathetically with the community and also set policies that do not just benefit the majority, but also Blacks, women, and other diverse groups in America.
Harris knows the climb to success of a gender and racial minority in America. As a Black elementary school student, she was part of Berkeley Unified School District’s busing program to integrate schools in 1969. Harris knows the pain of parental divorce at a young age. Harris knows yet another side of life in America as well, one that few achieve. This side speaks of a certain gained power as a woman and a minority through her achievements. This being her earned law degree, work as a California prosecutor, and service as the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate, the second elected to serve “there — joining the body nearly 25 years after the first.” These experiences give Harris a more in depth human perspective than a person who would historically be elected in her position.
Harris’ articulate speech, confident demeanor, stylish dress, attractiveness, intelligence, educational accomplishments, and ambition, like Barack Obama before her, makes the most closed-minded, sexist, and racially biased people question her ethnicity. Is she Black? Asian? Indian? Or Caribbean/West Indian? This is a question that has been asked, often swirling around social media. Well what does it matter — if she’s in fact American and over the age of 35 which is what is required for her newly elected position? If she is any and all of those ethnicities and also being a woman — she is still the first of these groups to hold such a position.
According to the Washington Post, “Harris’s victory comes 55 years after the Voting Rights Act abolished laws that disenfranchised Black Americans, 36 years after the first woman ran on a presidential ticket and four years after Democrats were devastated by the defeat of Hillary Clinton…” Because of the historic nature of her rise to power, anything perceived as an imperfection due to the bias of some, will be picked apart and ridiculed. But Harris is built for it because she stands on the shoulders of great women who paved the way.
Black women in politics have indeed paved the way for Kamala Harris. Shirley Chisolm became the first Black woman in Congress in 1968. Chisolm introduced more than 50 bills “aimed at healing poverty, attacking race and gender inequalities…” Fannie Lou Hamer fought for women’s rights and Black voting rights. Hamer co-founded the National Women’s political caucus. South Carolina native Charlotta Bass was the first Black woman candidate for President in 1952.
Cynthia McKinney also paved the way for Harris. McKinney, a native of Atlanta, was the first Black woman to represent Georgia in Congress. McKinney served eight terms in the U.S. House, working alongside of the late congressman and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis. McKinney ran for president in 2008, as a Green Party nominee.
As Harris prepares to be inaugurated in January 2021 as the first woman Vice President in the U.S. it is clear that she is standing on the shoulders of women whose political roots and commitment to equality, social justice, and women’s advancement have nurtured her.
What are your thoughts on the discussion of Kamala D. Harris’ background? Are you excited that the U.S. will have its first woman VP? Leave me a comment below or tweet me @duewafrazier1. Visit my website at www.duewaworld.com.