California Sen. Kamala Harris formally announced her bid for the 2020 presidential election this past Sunday in Oakland. It was there where she was born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father. Her mother was a scientist researching breast cancer and her father was a professor at Stanford.
Because of her mixed black ancestry and political history, she is being compared to former President Barack Obama. Gaining the “black vote” for Harris will not be as easy as it was for Obama, being that many activists are already urging black voters to not consider her candidacy at all because of her prosecutorial record. No one should vote for a candidate simply because of their race, but the attacks against Harris reek of misogynoir and racism.
Harris is no stranger to breaking glass ceilings and becoming the first to do things because of her race and gender. Before Harris, California never had a black or South Asian attorney general. She was also San Francisco’s first black and South Asian attorney general. It is for these roles that she is under so much scrutiny — but why?
Voters’ caution with Harris is quite understandable being that black America’s history with law enforcement and figures like prosecutors isn’t pretty. With the majority of prosecutors in the nation being white, it’s imperative there are more black women in this position.
A prosecutor is often the bad guy in the courtroom, responsible for sending perpetrators to jail or more formally, defending the state. It seems that people are attacking Harris for doing just that — her job. While people may not think certain laws are just, at the time of her being a prosecutor, it was her job to uphold them by any means.
Harris was unusually tough on crime to many, but it’s hard to find prosecutors who aren’t. Because of her identity, her failures as a prosecutor are being more amplified than her many progressive moves while serving. She was involved in several cases upholding wrongful convictions and defending police officers who were involved in misconduct. She was the attorney general, a position that often requires she stand by law enforcement.
There is so much more to say about Harris than her “shortcomings.” She created a program in 2005 to help non-violent first time drug offenders come back to the community. She created the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board in 2016. She opposes the death penalty because of its use against people of color.
One case many activists are particularly disappointed about was the one she formed against “Backpage,” a website of sex-working adverts that is known for trying to keep sex workers safe. “Sex work,” is illegal in the U.S. with some exceptions. In California, minors are protected against these laws and charges are only brought against those 18 and older.
The fact of the matter is that while laws against sex working may be morally incorrect, Harris was simply doing the job that had to be done in shutting down the website. As harsh as it may seem, it isn’t the duty of an attorney general to change laws. These concerns should be taken up with Californian legislators who continuously voted against changing the law, not an attorney general doing the best she could.
Those instances are only a fraction of things about Harris that minorities could and have the right to be worried about. My fear is that people are jumping to conclusions about her too quickly and ruling her out because of her racial identity. She was ridiculously accused of pandering to black people for dancing and singing along to a Cardi B. song. So now the woman can’t live her life without being accused of trying to get a vote?
She is being ripped to shreds on social media because she did her job as a prosecutor and attorney general. Where is this same disdain and scrutiny for people like Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden? It’s not there because she is not a white man. This is a classic example of black women being held to an impossible standard because of their intersectionality.
I urge everyone to educate themselves on the candidates and give it some time before they totally decide to rule her out. Black people have the right to be cautious about candidates, but keep that same energy when it comes to black and white male candidates. The same way people say we shouldn’t jump to supporting a candidate so soon is the same way we shouldn’t rule them out so soon.
It's time we stop policing other peoples’ blackness. Kamala’s father is Jamaican, she went to Howard University and she is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. I’m not sure how much more black she can get.
Olivia James is an 19-year-old freshman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.