On August 11, 2020, Senator Kamala Harris made history by becoming the first woman of color on a major party ticket for the presidential election. By choosing Harris as his running mate, the Democratic Party nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden adds to his ticket a former party rival who once centered her own presidential bid around her enthusiasm to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Harris was born in Oakland, California, to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, and she self-identifies as a Black woman. She attended a historically Black university — Howard — and often connects to her Indian roots by cooking traditional south Indian dishes for her family. Harris’s biography is unique because she not only has multiple identities but also openly embraces all of them.
In the past few years, she has gained attention in the Democratic Party through her pointed interrogations of high-profile Trump nominees in Senate hearings, including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In March, Biden vowed to pick a woman as his running mate, and in July, he announced that he was considering four Black women as part of his shortlist for vice president. This came at a time when Democrats — especially the more progressive, younger members of the party — lamented that despite a diverse pool of candidates running for the Democratic ticket, the election has come down to two elderly upper-class white men. With all but one of the United States’ past and present presidents fitting into this category, many in the party feel this is not representative of the nation.
Furthermore, Biden needed to carefully select a vice presidential candidate that would appeal to voters in the throes of the Black Lives Matter movement. After a summer filled with clashes between protesters and police, in response to the killings of unarmed Black Americans by police, the Black voter base is tired of being taken for granted as being surefire Democratic votes. The 2016 presidential election hinted at this disaffection; turnout of the group fell by 7% from the previous presidential election. Biden needed to make a decision that would support his party in crucial swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida, all of which Trump won in 2016. By choosing Harris, a charismatic Black candidate who appeals to both the Black and white voter base, Biden is attempting to improve turnout among Black voters. Biden is urging Black voters to come out to the polls by having someone that reflects their identity.
It is important to point out that while race may serve as a factor in voters’ choice, gender does not motivate voters in the same way. In the 2016 presidential election, white women voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton. Albeit by a small margin, the outcome of this demographic was still unexpected given that Clinton was the first woman on a major party ticket. She also served as a frequent target for Trump’s misogynistic remarks, like bragging that he grabbed women by their genitals, that were said leading up to the election.
Given her lengthy political track record — as District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of California, and current junior Senator of California — it is not unreasonable to assert that Harris is competent and possesses the necessary experience to accept the nomination. As Attorney General of San Francisco and California, Harris brought about prison reform and criminal justice reform. However, she has faced criticism for punishing low-level crimes with hefty sentences as well as unfairly targeting poorer Black men in her prosecution. Voters from both sides of the aisle have criticized her for this, especially after she made light of her own marijuana use on an entertainment radio talk show. She also took a stand for LGBTQ+ rights when opposing Prop 8. As Senator of California, she serves on the Committee on the Budget, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on the Judiciary.
Even though it is generally regarded as a highly ceremonial role, the vice president is quite literally only a heartbeat away from the president. However, her positive attributes pale in comparison to the biases against female candidates in the electorate and in the media, a prejudice that is harsher against women of color. President Trump has already brought back his infamous misogynistic comments, using the long-standing stereotype of the angry Black woman against the senator by calling her mad, vicious, mean, and nasty — the latter of which occurred just hours after Biden’s announcement of his running mate. Harris responded just days later by ripping into the president’s RNC speech, not only criticizing his words but also his ego.
Harris also faces the unique challenge of “birtherism” in the media, similar to former President Barack Obama. Soon after Harris was chosen for the Democratic ticket, Newsweek ran a since-retracted op-ed asserting that Harris was ineligible to assume the office of vice president. It was written by John Eastman, a professor of law at Chapman, someone who would generally be regarded as well-informed on a matter relating to the Constitution. He proposed that since Harris’s parents were not citizens when she was born, she does not qualify as a natural-born citizen. While her parents were not naturalized at the time of her birth, any child born on American soil is an American citizen. It is also important to point to the fact that this same question of citizenship was not brought upon white men who have run for president, such as Ted Cruz and John McCain. While their parents were American, they were born abroad and by Eastman’s logic they would not be naturalized citizens and therefore they would be ineligible to run.Harris’s journey into the role of vice-presidential hopeful has been unique and hallmarked by significant points throughout her long political career. Her perspective as the child of immigrants and as a woman of color can bring an unprecedented lens to the White House. When Obama chose Biden as his own vice president, Biden noted that he wanted to be the last person in the room when the president was making decisions; it’s not unreasonable to assume that this strong bond is the same relationship Biden is looking for in Harris.
Categories: Domestic Affairs