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She Looks Like Us, But is She for Us?

BY: MOMAL RIZVI

The (possible) future Vice President looks like me. She looks just like me, a young South Asian woman, and she also looks like another 60 million Black and Brown women in this country. Kamala Harris brings women of color a feeling of pride — she shows us that we can be represented, we can be a part of politics, we can become the vice presidential nominee, and most importantly, that we do belong.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris, a half-Jamaican, half-Indian, first-generation American, as his presidential running mate is historic for women of color. If elected, Harris would be the first Black, first Asian-American, female to be a U.S. Vice President. She's only the fourth woman in U.S. history to be picked for a major party ticket.

The selection of a woman like Kamala as the vice-presidential candidate is a genuine representation of the Democratic Party, but that may be to their detriment (but I'll get to that later). A Black woman has never been nominated for president or vice president, despite their history as the "backbone" of the Democratic Party. Just look at the election of 2016, over 90 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton. This extends to the state and local level — in August, Black women helped one of their own, Cori Bush, win against a 20-year incumbent in Missouri. 

Kamala Harris's selection for the presidential ticket goes against the history and narrative of white supremacy in America, which welcomes only white voices to be heard, especially in the political realm. Asian-American women couldn't vote until 1952. Black women couldn't vote until 1965. Voter suppression still persists today — recall the election of Stacey Abrams. The fact that a half-Black, half-Asian woman's name is on a major party ticket is a slap in the face of white America. 

But is this milestone for women of color all that it appears to be?

Since his official nomination as the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden has received pressure to choose a woman to be his running mate, especially from leaders within the Democratic Party. While the timing and history played a role in this push, it has also been seen as a strategy for Biden to secure this win.

For a long time, BIPOC have questioned Kamala's role within the community, and whether or not she has had a beneficial impact on us. This discussion has only amplified since her 2020 primary run. While some people view Kamala's acceptance as a major step forward for people of color, others view it as a strategic game of "identity politics."

The phrase "identity politics" was coined by the Combahee River Collective in 1977. This group of Black feminists and lesbians voiced in their collective statement that, "We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us…thus focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics." They believed that the most revolutionary politics come from one's own identity and that this is especially true for Black women, as past political movements have shown that "anyone is more worthy of liberation than [Black women]."

However, almost half a century later, the term "identity politics" has been redefined. While the Combahee River Collective pushed for "identity" as a way to liberate oneself from oppressive forces, nowadays "identity" is used as a tactic to elect certain people into power and to create an illusion of progressive change.

While Kamala's selection is a win for representation, we must ask if this is merely symbolic or if it will bring real change to the communities she represents. When we look at Harris's past, there are many times when she has failed to support people of color, particularly Black communities.

After years of work as a prosecutor, she became California Attorney General. Prosecutors have played a major role in making America's criminal justice system the atrocity it is today, and Kamala is no exception. Harris's history as a prosecutor has been nothing but contradictory. She would take one step forward with a progressive policy, such as providing alternatives to incarceration through education and work, then proceed to take two steps backward with conservative decisions, such as fighting to keep potentially innocent people on death row. 

In the 1995 case of Ernest Dewayne Jones, a Black death row inmate, the death penalty was argued to be unconstitutional. This case had the potential to pave the path to eliminating the death penalty in California. However, Harris appealed the ruling, and it was eventually overturned, leading people to question where Harris really stood on capital punishment.

During Harris's time as Attorney General, she even went so far to place transgender people in prisons that didn't match their gender and denied them proper medical care. These decisions particularly harmed trans women, such as Candice Crower, a Black trans woman who was housed in a men's facility and suffered violence because of it.

As an Asian-American, it is important for our community to not be deceived by Harris's half-Indian identity. While Asian-American representation in politics is a step in the right direction, it is necessary to evaluate the history of our candidates, regardless of their identity. As Asian-Americans, we must use our privilege within our communities to support and vote for the right candidates. Although Harris's time as a prosecutor did not have a large impact on the Asian community, it is important for us to understand the ways in which her career has harmed our fellow BIPOC in marginalized communities.

While Harris's stances on criminal justice have changed since she's become a senator, her history is inexcusable. The harm that she has caused to Black and Brown people through her time as a prosecutor leads one to question the credibility using "identity" as a means for figurative change. Only time will tell if Kamala's selection is a win for people of color, or if the self-proclaimed "top cop" is stuck in her ways of the past. 

In the meantime, please register to vote and make your voice heard by electing the people you want and deserve!

 


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