Can Black women be unapologetically ambitious? This is a question that has been heavy on my mind in recent weeks. On August 19th, Sen. Kamala Harris became the first Black and Asian woman to accept the Democratic nomination for Vice President of the United States. One would think a Black woman being one step from the highest office would be a cause for celebration by all except the usual suspects on the right. Instead, Biden’s choice was met with great derision and vitriol on both sides of the aisle and from some unlikely sources.
There is much room for criticism when discussing Sen. Harris. There is also much room for a discussion on misogynoir which I believe plays an enormous part in her critics’ inability to view her record through the complex lens necessary for a three decade long legal and legislative career. Let us first define misogynoir, a term coined by Maya Bailey in 2010 which describes the unique brand of misogyny experienced by Black women who exist at the intersection of race and gender. The very complexity needed to view Sen. Harris’ record in context and is the same complexity missing from the conversation around Black women’s ability to exist outside of culturally accepted stereotypes.
Misogynoir explains the lack of compassion for Black women who exhibit qualities normally associated with men. Sen. Harris’ career is no doubt dotted with question marks. Though, there are other easily debunked claims like her being the Alameda County district attorney at the time of the Oscar Grant shooting that have been widely spread with little regard for fact checking. A quick Google search reveals Sen. Harris did work in the office a decade prior, but she was the San Francisco district attorney at the time of the Grant shooting.
Social media shares are seldom fact checked. But the readiness to believe negative stories about the Senator has run rampant since her presidential run. While Sen. Harris has supported or created policies that could be deemed negative, her past is no more complex than anyone else who has reached this level of high stakes politics. Also, she has spoken numerous times about these policies and how she now deems poorly devised and executed.
My goal here is not to defend Sen. Harris but to pose the question, “So what?” I have no interest in positing her as untouchable or flawless. I, instead, pose that she is no different than any other ambitious, calculated, and driven politician who has reached her levels of power and influence. She is just packaged in a different way, a way that America is not used to seeing. She is unapologetic and unflinching as shown during her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh and William Barr during recent Senate hearings. She is everything that is feared. She is Black woman in full awareness of who she is and what she wants.
Note: My referring to Sen. Harris as a Black woman is in no way a denial of her Indian mother. It is an acknowledgment that American racism much like stereotypes of Black women leave little room for complexity. Sen. Harris presents as a Black woman and she is being treated as one.