It’s not fair.
My initial reaction to the news that Sen. Kamala Harris had bowed out of the 2020 presidential race was that of a five-year-old who lacked the linguistic sophistication to actually convey how they felt. As a Black woman, the California native’s presence in a crowded presidential race wasn’t merely about representation, it was about showing the world that the backbone of the Democratic party was, and still remains, qualified enough to lead the whole damn thing.
By no means was Kamala Harris a perfect candidate. Growing up the child of two American transplants with a love for U.S. politics taught me at an early age that no candidate (or president for that matter) is. But what Harris did possess after years as San Francisco’s District Attorney, California’s Attorney General, and the junior senator from the third-largest state in the country, was a clear competency to be Commander in Chief.
America requires more of Black women. Whether my assessment of Harris’s fitness for the job rings true to you or not, on this point I will not be challenged. Recent history has shown that a less-than-mediocre white man with zero qualifications, zero political experience, and who gives zero f&*#s about what happens to anybody other than himself, his family, and other white-appearing people, is allowed to successfully run for president. He’s allowed to rape women, talk about grabbing them by their genitals, and show his white-supremacist ass for all to see. Then he’s granted access into a house built by slaves to rule over one of the most powerful nations in the world for however many years we allow him. And Donald J. Trump is just one extreme case.
But there are not-so-extreme cases still vying to become the 2020 Democratic nominee. And I honestly don’t say that to be divisive. While I won’t name names, the fact is, there are non-Black women with not even an ounce of Harris’s pedigree that will be on a Los Angeles debate stage in two weeks. There are non-Black women who have authored and/or voted for Black family-upending crime bills, with little to no questioning about their love for the Black community. There are even non-Black women who have served as former prosecutors, took a “tough on crime” stance that harmed Black communities, and have never even contemplated apologizing for it.
And yet Harris took shot after shot, negative headline after negative headline for her imperfections. Is it absolutely possible that the Howard grad just ran a terrible campaign? Sure. But I’m keyed in enough to know that it’s not simply that. For some people, her white husband disqualified her. Others scrutinized her prosecutorial record with contorted talking points and a 2019 lens, before labeling her a ‘cop.’ One woman I spoke to said Harris’s laugh made her believe that she wasn’t taking her run for president seriously. I’ve legit heard it all.
Full disclosure, I like Kamala Harris. She’s my Soror, a fellow HBCU grad, was raised by two immigrant parents just like me, and watching her with her sister Maya reminds me of the relationship I have with my own sister. But was Kamala Harris my candidate? I can’t honestly say that she was. Since the start of this election season, I’ve remained among the 26 percent of Black women who have yet to pick a candidate, and because I cover news and politics for a living, my overconsumption of campaign plans has me confused AF.
But what I will say about Kamala Harris is she has always been transparent. She has always been kind. And she has always seen me. While the Biden campaign won’t return an email, and a number of others won’t even as much as send a press release about their intent, Harris has always made time to talk to this Black-woman reporter from a “Black media outlet.”
Before I sat down with her at Essence Fest, not knowing who I was or where I came from, she gave me a hug than opened up about her plans for America. Days later she insisted that I have a seat at a dinner table where other women journalists from “mainstream” outlets were convening to speak with her. In August her campaign invited me to join them on her Iowa bus tour. When she saw me sitting outside of one of her campaign fundraisers, she stopped dead in her path, gave me hug, and thanked me for being there.
In the months since my days in Iowa, she’s made time for our calls, penned stories for ESSENCE about her run, and made it clear, at least to me, that she was willing to fight for every vote.
So yea. When I saw Harris’ tweet confirming a headline I had read just minutes prior, it felt like America had punched me in the gut, left me bent over on the sidewalk, and ran off laughing.
Let’s be clear. My reaction is bigger — much, much bigger— than Kamala Harris. It’s about the dismissal of Black women’s qualifications, the idea that we must bring perfection to every role we are in, and that at the end of the day, white men are given opportunity after opportunity, simply because they have the bank account to support them.
In the days ahead I’ll get out of my feelings, stop throwing an internal temper tantrum, and rise above this childish sensation of injustice I now have. If Zora Neale Hurston taught me anything, I’d be better off using the time sharpening my oyster knife.