Kamala Harris is a big deal. As Joe Biden’s newly announced running mate, she could be the first female, Asian American, and Black vice president, elevating three marginalized groups to the second highest governmental position. For young women of color everywhere, the significance of seeing themselves reflected in such a position — and by such a powerful, outspoken, and accomplished woman — cannot be ignored.
That being said, Harris is not the perfect candidate. She checks many boxes, and will no doubt be a functional vice president, but her prosecutorial history leads many to rightfully question how she will handle criminal justice reform. Additionally, Harris has repeatedly emphasized that increasing police everywhere is a good idea, writing in her 2009 book Smart on Crime that “virtually all law-abiding citizens feel safer when they see officers walking a beat.” In recent years, she has reversed her previous stance against the legalization of marijuana, and become more vocal against police brutality, although her history with the San Francisco police department’s misconduct reveals a frustrating lack of accountability.
However, it is important to acknowledge the unfortunate truth that Kamala Harris got to where she is today only by upholding the systems that powerful white men created; the same powerful white men who are now calling for her downfall. The reality is that women of color cannot get to positions of power in our democracy without playing into the systems built to oppress them; in Senator Harris’ case, the criminal justice system. Although she has received a good deal of justified criticism from the left for her extremely harmful ‘law and order’ stance on crime, we must remember that she was playing into a much larger system designed to incarcerate men of color, serving the needs of the white men leading our country. Another example of this phenomenon is the role she has been given as the “angry black woman” stereotype. As much as this stereotype has damaged Harris, it has also given her publicity and attention that she may never have received if she had stayed quiet on the sidelines. Until we get women like Kamala Harris into major positions of power, these systems will stay the same, and women of color will continue to do whatever it takes to make their voices heard.
Harris is a strong candidate for many reasons, and although Biden seems to have gone with the most obvious option, the choice was strategic for many reasons. First, Harris is a woman of color, a member of a powerful voting group that was largely responsible for Barack Obama’s election victory. Additionally, Harris is an excellent speaker, as we saw during the presidential debates. Unfortunately, due to a double-whammy of racism and sexism, critics often have called her aggressive and out of control, which are insults Black women face seemingly anytime they find their voice. Meanwhile, during the Democratic primaries, an unbothered Harris expertly talked circles around Biden, deeming no subject off-limits. This is exactly the kind of brutally honest and passionate speaker we need facing off against Mike Pence in the upcoming Vice Presidential debates, and I, for one, can’t wait to see Harris absolutely destroy Pence on the debate stage. It will be a triumphant moment for anyone who has ever been forced to talk to someone half as patronizing, homophobic, sexist, and disgraceful as Pence.
All in all, Harris was a strategic pick by Joe Biden and his team, one with flaws, but with enough redeeming qualities and crowd appeal to be a successful vice president. As a self-proclaimed daughter of Berkeley, it would be nice to see Kamala Harris revisit her radically liberal Berkeley roots, considering her tendency to stray towards the middle. For now, it’s important to recognize her past, while also dedicating ourselves to ensuring that we see a Biden-Harris administration in 2021. It is vital that we temporarily put aside any qualms with Kamala Harris — to revisit once she’s elected — and for the next three months, do everything in our power to make sure she becomes America’s next vice president. She is our only option, but she is also our only hope.