When I was watching the democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden back in March and they were asked about their pick for VP I already knew exactly what to expect. Sanders committed to picking a progressive woman as his VP knowing full well the potential of many women to hold the position and bring with them the values needed to advance the fight for social justice and equality. When Biden heard this, he felt empowered to commit to picking a woman of color as his VP. Surely feeling that he had one-upped Bernie Sanders with a wide smile on his face.
I, and many other women of color in this country, exhaled a collective sigh in that moment.
With that being said, at that point, he better be damn sure to pick a woman of color. The only thing worse than a white man using us as a symbol for his ascent to power would be to do so with false promises and no real representation.
Women of color are tired of being used as symbols. We do not want to be your token. We are not here to be an excuse for white America to continue to uphold white supremacy and the patriarchy — something that Kamala Harris has proven to do exceptionally well during her time as a prosecutor in California. Proving what many of us knew the moment those words came tumbling from his mouth.
A commitment of a woman of color as VP gave us nothing. There was no tangible promise of progression for our place in society in those empty words.
As a woman of color, there is a lot to consider about Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris is unapologetic about her heritage. With a father from Jamaica and a mother from India, she boldly claims both identities. It’s no surprise she found the power to do this considering her upbringing. Her mother was an activist from a young age and Harris grew up spending much of her time at The Rainbow Sign, a Berkeley black cultural center. Despite her mixed heritage, Harris discusses how her mother understood how society would see her, as a black woman, and wanted her to be empowered within that identity.
It was there at The Rainbow Sign that Harris was introduced to many Black thinkers. Scott Saul gives us some insight into this world in his article, “Where Kamala Harris’ political imagination was formed.” “BWOPA’s political agenda was left-of-center, though when faced with a choice between endorsing more centrist and more radical candidates, it leaned toward the former.” One member of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) is even noted as saying, “Politics is not nice, pretty, or a purist activity. It is a question of who can negotiate from a position of strength.” And with that, we can begin to understand Kamala Harris and how she got to where she is today.
When one has come to understand that change only comes from a position of power there is room to compromise on values. To do whatever it takes to “make it” is a common theme for many marginalized groups in America. A “truth” that has been shoved down our throats as a means to achieve anything in this country. You do what you “have” to do. And Kamala Harris did what she “had” to do to make it.
Lara Bazelon explores some of these compromises in “Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’.”
As district attorney, Harris refused to act on meaningful criminal justice reform. She also championed state legislation that allowed the parents of “habitually truant” children to be prosecuted, despite the studies that show this would disproportionately affect BIPOC and low-income individuals.
As the state’s attorney general, she remained silent on Proposition 47, which reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors. She also laughed when asked about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. The illegality of which has been used to criminalize Black and Brown people at significantly higher rates than white individuals, despite the similar rates of usage.
She has also failed numerous times to hold police officers accountable. Opposing a bill requiring her office to investigate shootings involving officers as well as refusing to support statewide standards regulating the use of body-worn cameras.
This is the cost of those sacrifices. In sacrificing your values, and in sacrificing those like you as a means to achieve power, you have traded your ability to make a change. The system as it exists was not built for us, but rather it was built on top of us. It thrives off of our very suffering. There is no change to be made within it. The very notion of a “progressive prosecutor” is laughable. Even if she had achieved what she sought out to, it would have given us nothing. A prosecutor exists as a way to criminalize people, and there is no just or progressive way of doing so.
By participating in a system built and upheld by white supremacy you give them the diversity they need to claim it isn’t so. You allow them to continue to ignore our plight for your own success. We do not need to diversify the halls of power, we need to tear them down together.