Column: I wasn’t a fan of Kamala Harris. It took President Trump to change my mind
I’ll admit it. I was a Kamala Harris skeptic.
The day Joe Biden announced that the California senator would be his running mate, I rolled my eyes and resigned myself to voting for her.
It just seemed bonkers that Joe Biden would select a career prosecutor — Black though she may be — at a time when Americans are taking to the streets to protest a criminal justice system that continues to treat Black people unfairly. And yet, also all too typical of the Democratic Party to go for the moderate.
But that was Tuesday.
Now, I’m all in. I’m even excited, and certainly more committed than ever to giving President Trump and Vice President Pence the boot.
What’s changed for me, and I suspect for a lot of Black people who were initially less than enthusiastic about Harris as VP, has been the constant stream of racist attacks against her from Trump and his various minion mouthpieces. Lukewarm about her before, now we’re fired up and defensive.
President Trump’s attempt to sabotage mail-in voting by denying funding to the U.S. Postal Service will harm his base of rural voters the most.
I mean, how else can one respond to the comments about her being “nasty” during the Democratic primary debates and “a madwoman” while questioning then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court. Never mind that Kavanaugh was legit angry crying. The “angry Black woman” trope is so tired.
And then there’s the cockamamie narrative about her being part of “the left-wing mob” that wants to do away with “law and order” and is now controlling the Democratic Party. Fellow Californian and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted (and apparently deleted) that she “wants to turn the entire United States into San Francisco. Her radical agenda has been terrible for Californians, and it would be terrible for the rest of America, too.”
What does that even mean? So a Black woman who made headlines for refusing to punish police misconduct is now a “radical”? Please. I interviewed her a handful of times during her time in Sacramento, and I always walked away thinking she was smart, charming, cautious and opportunistic in the way that the most talented politicians tend to be.
But what pushed me over the edge have been the snide comments and insinuations about her race, from the ludicrous birtherism claims that she’s not eligible to be vice president to the questions about whether she’s really Black because she is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.
I remember the first time someone asked me that. I was in the fourth grade. My family had just moved from an Ohio suburb with a population that was about 90% Black to one, only a few miles but an entire socioeconomic strata away, that was about 90% white.
One afternoon, a girl with long, blond hair and blue eyes walked over from where she had been sitting on the playground with a bunch of other girls with long blond hair and blue eyes. She looked me up and down in the scornful and skeptical way that only a privileged kid can.
“Are you really Black?” she asked. “Because you are really light.”
I remember pausing, wondering if it was a trick question. “Yes,” I told her.
She didn’t miss a beat. “Well, prove it!”
To this day, the notion that anyone who is of African descent — whether their ancestors came on a slave ship through the Caribbean or directly to the shores of the United States — has to somehow prove their Blackness is something that both dumbfounds and enrages me. It is just mind-blowing that we’re still having this conversation, even after Barack Obama, born to a white mother and an African father, served two terms as president — which probably tells me that I’ve been in multicultural California for too long.
But I’m not alone. A little hesitant at first, a string of progressive Black women have come out in support of Harris in recent days, as Republicans have stepped up their attacks on her.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors took to Instagram on Thursday to encourage her followers to vote for Biden and Harris. “She has been an amazing progressive in the Senate. She has stood up to Trump time and time again... We need a Black woman like her to be in office.”
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay did much the same, telling her followers on IG that there is no debate anymore and to just go vote.
“We either make this happen. Or literally, more of us perish,” she wrote, blaming Trump’s hot mess of an administration for the disproportionate number of Black and brown people who have fallen victim to the spiraling COVID-19 pandemic. “People are dying. Someone I love died. This virus is real. If it hasn’t visited your doorstep, it will. Oh but, Kamala did this or she didn’t do that. I hear you. I know. And I don’t care.”
Longtime activist Angela Davis also has chimed in. Not a fan of Biden, she admitted that she wasn’t thrilled that he had picked Harris. “We can’t forget that she did not oppose the death penalty,” she told Reuters, “and we can’t forget some of the real problems that are associated with her career as a prosecutor.”
But Davis said that Harris also has made the ticket more “palatable” and encouraged people to vote.
The bottom line is, as much as Republicans would like to sow division among the ranks of liberals, poking sore points, such as allegiance to the more progressive demands of Black Lives Matter, it won’t work.
Sure, Harris has been squishy on the defund-the-police movement and, as California’s attorney general, threatened to jail the parents of truant children. Republicans have tried to hit her on that while simultaneously accusing her as being an ally of anarchists. But, as the state’s junior senator, Harris has led the charge on a police reform bill that would create a national registry for misconduct cases, prohibit chokeholds, limit “qualified immunity” and declare lynching a federal crime.
All of this adds up to the fact that Harris might not be the biggest ally for progressives if elected vice president, but she certainly won’t be an enemy. Not anymore.
“People want us to go on and either talk negatively about Kamala Harris or talk positively about Kamala Harris. I want to be very clear: Black Lives Matter believes that our primary work is the work of organizing and being in streets,” Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, told a crowd of supporters on Wednesday.
“There’s a fallacy,” she continued, “that says that you move from protest to politics. You do not move from protest to politics. The only thing that ever creates change is protest and politics.”
Resorting to racist attacks on a Black woman is a good catalyst for both.
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