Sen. Kamala Harris beamed as she took the podium in Delaware Wednesday in her first public appearance as Joe Biden’s running mate — the first Black woman and first person of Indian descent on a major political party’s presidential ticket.
I can only imagine women of the same race and background around the country had similar looks of pride on their faces as they took in the historic and long overdue moment from their living room sofas.
This day didn’t come easy and without sacrifice from others who have toiled for years for equity in this country’s political process. Generations of Black women in particular set up the foundation for the right for others who look like them to hold higher office and for once not to be told “it’s not your turn.”
There was Shirley Chisholm the first African American woman in Congress and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties; Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman U.S. Senator and only the second Black Senator since Reconstruction; and Barbara Jordan the first African American congresswoman to come from the South. Plenty of others fought in the trenches, but never held offices. They faced racism, sexism and constant ridicule. But they persisted and Ms. Harris has benefited mightily.
Ms. Harris gave a nod to these pioneers during her speech Wednesday: “And Joe, I’m so proud to stand with you. And I do so, mindful of all the heroic — and ambitious — women before me whose sacrifice, determination and resilience makes my presence here today even possible.”
Mr. Biden’s decision to choose the former Senator from California was also a nod to the clout and respect that Black women have begun to demand from the Democratic Party as the party’s most loyal voting block in recent years. They were more likely than women in any other racial or ethnic group to support Democratic House candidates in 2018, according to The Associated Press. They also helped Mr. Biden secure his bid as the Democratic presidential nominee.
This was not lost on Black women and many were not content this time to sit on the sidelines or stay in the background. They wanted to be rewarded for their persistent commitment.
Nearly 700 Concerned Black Women Leaders made this point clear in an open letter to Mr. Biden as he was making his decision, saying in part, " know that the time for Black women in the United States is now.”
One hundred high profile Black men — including, politicians, entertainers and athletes — followed suit with a similar letter. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott was among those who signed the letter.
“For too long Black women have been asked to do everything from rally the troops to risk their lives for the Democratic Party with no acknowledgment, no respect, no visibility, and certainly not enough support,” the letter said. “Failing to select a Black woman in 2020 means you will lose the election. We don’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils and we don’t want to vote the devil we know versus the devil we don’t because we are tired of voting for devils — period.”
In the end, Mr. Biden did the right thing despite pressure from some in the party that claimed Ms. Harris was too “ambitious,” a tired and sexist trope often used to describe women, particularly Black women.
It was these strong qualities — not just the color of her skin — that Mr. Biden said made Ms. Harris such a viable candidate. He called her smart, experienced and a proven fighter. He lauded her for not being scared to go toe-to-toe with the Trump administration. What more could we ask for in a vice president?
As the pair travels the country making their case for a Biden/Harris administration, Ms. Harris will be an instant example of how hard work pays off. A graduate of Howard University, she will put historically Black colleges and universities in the national spotlight, as some struggle to make it financially. With her Jamaican and Indian heritage and white husband, she is an example of America’s melting pot. (No, being married to a white man, doesn’t make her any less committed to Black issues). But most importantly she will be a role model for young girls of color everywhere.
As Mr. Biden said: “And this morning, all across this nation little girls woke up — especially little Black and Brown girls who so often may feel overlooked and undervalued in our society — but today, maybe they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way. As the stuff of presidents and Vice Presidents.”
Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Please send her ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.