OPINION: Scrutiny of Kamala Harris displays the duality of being a black woman in America

Illustration by Emely Pascual.

Tagwa Shammet, Contributing Writer

There’s been a lot of buzz around Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., since she announced her bid for the 2020 presidential election. Harris’ entire political career has been put under a public microscope, as with most candidates, and many are concerned with what they’ve found.

As California’s attorney general, Harris made decisions that some people find worrisome. While I understand questioning her legislation, I want to remind everyone of something: Harris was not only the first African-American attorney general, she was also the first woman to hold the position.

This doesn’t justify hurting black families, but the intersectionality Harris is dealing with is worth sympathizing. For now, I won’t be supporting her because of her political actions, but I just need some recognition, and she gives me that.

A black woman’s identity is the epitome of ambiguity. We are ignored and forced to undergo the oppression from intersecting communities of black men on one side and white women on the other.

The intersectionality of being a black woman constitutes our identity struggles. She is a person who lies inside two separate minorities: marginalized within the already marginalized. The black patriarchy and white feminism fight to defeat the white patriarchal majority, but tend to forget about black feminists. We never know who we are supposed to sympathize with, who we are grouped in with and who we are not. I have to listen to white women go on about the pain of being a woman and black men preach the torture that is being black in America, but when will I hear about being a black woman in America?

Living life as a black woman is one of the hardest jobs in today’s society — take a look at the wage gap in the U.S. economy. When a black woman makes $657, black men make $710 and white women $795, according to a 2017 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The same study shows that black women make $300 less compared to white men’s earnings. Society has always forgotten about black women.

Black women fight the oppression of racism and sexism, continuously shouldering the black burden. White feminists call on us to speak out against the black community, while black men ask for us stand with them. We are constantly forced to choose between gender and race.

Being a black woman in America means you are dismissed by both sides of your identity and ignored continuously because you are too much of a minority for people’s liking.

Not only is Harris a black woman, she is also half South Indian. When she became a senator in 2016, she made history as the first Indian-American and second black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Should Harris win the 2020 presidential election, she will break several barriers set up in our white patriarchy: the first female president, the first black female president and the first Indian-American president. Hats off to Harris — her passion and determination are admirable. She is a force to be reckoned with; as is every other black woman.

Now that Harris has announced her bid, many are questioning her “experience,” or lack thereof. This is excruciatingly bold of America. It seems selective memory is in play — don’t forget the current president did not hold a single position of governmental authority before winning the election. Harris is far more experienced than President Donald Trump ever was and he managed to win. So, what’s the issue?

Harris is the epitome of the democratic usage of identity politics. Given her collection of ethnicity, race and gender, Harris is a prime example of the “melting pot” we are taught in schools. She is authentic; not in need of the unnecessary “ancestry.com” or other classifying sites like her fellow competitor democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. This, however, puts Harris in a tight position seeing how her “tough on crime” stance and executions in California are now being scrutinized.

Harris needs to own her past decisions and start moving toward re-appealing to the black community. Both sides of the aisle are aware that black America holds onto its votes for dear life and won’t be giving them out so easily. If Harris can gain back the trust of her fellow black Americans, she can win this election on their behalf.

Harris is the person many black women have been searching for. She is intelligent, empowering and integral to a forward-thinking society. She is standing in front of the nation, telling it that she, a black woman, wants to lead its people into greatness. For right now, I’ll let her keep saying that and take the path to support her. Yes, Harris has had some questionable practices when it comes to the black community. Nevertheless, she has broken ground into a new era for black women.

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