There is now no longer a question about whether Senator Kamala Harris can step up, deliver on policy positions, and dismantle her opponent on a presidential debate stage: “Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, but…”
You could have heard a pin drop as the room and the world watched the youthful, black, female former prosecutor from California dismantle Joe Biden in a respectful, yet skillful way about busing, segregated schools, and his chummy working relationship with avowed racist southerners in the 1970s. Harris’ social media team was ready with an instantly iconic photo of a little girl—her—in pigtails.
The question that Democratic primary voters must address combines the two they addressed in 2008 and 2016: Is America ready to elect its first female president, and one who is a woman of color?
I think and I hope that the answer is yes, and I see myself—a black woman in her early fifites and an attorney by profession who has worked on Capitol Hill and never married or had children—in Harris.
I am one of millions of similarly situated professional black women who see our hopes and aspirations fulfilled in Kamala. She did not marry until she was 50. She has no biological children of her own (her grown-up stepchildren call her “Momala”).
She has devoted her life to public service and building a career that has propelled her within reach of the highest office in the land, indeed the most powerful post in the world: President of the United States of America. And let us be clear, last night Kamala Harris’s critique of Biden was speaking to black female voters, who are the cornerstone of the Democratic Party’s success at the ballot box. I know that there are those who say that critique was “angry,” ”mean,” or “aggressive,” as Stu Rothenberg tweeted out last night, or that she “attacked” Biden. She did not.
That is a “perception” issue that all strong black women face, no matter what we say, or how we say it. Today, I believe that Soror Kamala Harris (a term of affection which means “sister” in our Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which does not formally endorse candidates) can win the presidency. I am a moderate Republican woman (the exact voter she needs to win over to win the presidency) who lives in Virginia, and I would vote for her even though I do not agree with all of her policies, like on immigration and many other issues. However, I do think she will act like an adult. She will not embarrass this nation abroad. She will listen to her generals and policy advisers. She will have a cabinet that is diverse and looks like America. She will lift us up in times of national tragedy. And that she will honor the oath of her officer to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies foreign and domestic.
It seems to me that white Americans, and in particular white women voters (remember 53 percent of them voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016) have to decide what matters most in the general election.
Harris is the only black woman in the United States Senate. She is one of only three black Senators with colleagues Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). She is often the only person like her in the room.
It is the story of my life too, and those millions of successful women of color. She knows how to lead. She knows how to pivot. She knows how to speak the language of America, of our possibilities, and of our past failings in a way that connects us as a people. She knows what it is like to be invisible in broad daylight, like in last night’s debate when she had to say, “I would like to speak on the issue of race.”
President Donald Trump no doubt will cast Harris, should she be the nominee, as another “nasty woman.” And a socialist. He will attack her relationship with her former mentor, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. He and the Republican oppo team will dig as far back as they can, for as much dirt as they can. Democrats, more cautiously, will do some of the same as she continues to rise.
Her job will be the one that all professional women of color must balance: She must show herself to be a brave, competent woman from a new generation, one who unlike Hillary Clinton is willing to punch back when attacked by Trump. She will have to not scare off white people, while at the same time making black people feel they can trust her. She will have to carry the burden of her race and gender with grace in a way that inspires the nation to see her history as powerful preparation for healing what ails us right now.
Hillary’s generation of women paved the way. My generation of women now want that “torch” that Rep. Eric Swalwell demanded Biden pass to him. Kamala Harris grabbed the torch last night, and she is lighting the way.