Opinion- Kamala Harris: The truth behind identity politics

By Oreoluwa Ojewuyi, Staff Reporter

In 2008, Barack Obama made history when he became the first African American president.  At nine years old it mattered to me that someone who looked like me was now the leader of this country.

I understood the gravity of my Nigerian father being a first-time voter and casting his vote for a Black man. Thirteen years later, I am a 21-year-old woman with  more education and experiences that  inform my own political views. 

I choose to base my opinions on candidates not solely on their identity but their advocacy and methods of leadership. 

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Joe Biden beat Donald Trump and Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and woman of color to be elected vice president. 

I wondered if having someone who looked like me in office was enough and began to view Biden’s vice presidential pick as a merely strategic decision to mobilize Black voters. 

When Harris initially joined the ticket, I researched her and was disappointed. 

I can relate to Harris being the daughter of immigrants and growing up in a multicultural household. Despite our similar upbringings, though, I found that our views on many things were vastly different. 

In turn, when Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris for his running mate I had mixed emotions. 

Historically, the Black community has faced challenges when trying to vote or obtain positions of power in politics. 

Black women have continuously sat beneath glass ceilings. The barriers created for us on the basis of our gender and race create difficulty when we try to reach goals that some expect are unreachable for us.  Harris is Black and Indian, making this a historic moment for both communities of color.

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From slavery to Jim Crow laws, the community has encountered challenge after challenge. In 1920 when women were finally granted the right to vote, many Black people still couldn’t vote or experienced voter suppression in the South. 

Today, Black women who were previously denied the right to vote were an integral part of getting Biden and Harris elected into office. 

Though we are able to see someone that looks like us in the highest office of the land, looking like us is simply not enough to properly advocate for us. 

Black leaders are often brandished as the face and voice of their community. We are expected to be a monolith with the same views, values and culture.

Kamala Harris’ approach to leadership throughout her career displays a lack of understanding of the intersectional issues faced by Black and brown communities and she often fell short of properly advocating for the community. 

 Kamala Harris’ history as a prosecutor displays that Blackness alone does not always equal kinship. 

When we uplift Black leaders solely based on their identity, it allows them to ignore the issues of intersectionality in the Black community, from diaspora wars, Black womanhood and the Black LGBTQ community. All of these parts of the Black community experience different plights and triumphs that must be addressed differently. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Democratic party and its leaders is that the party is very liberal. 

In my opinion, when you look deeper at the party and the candidates they choose to support, the Democratic party is actually quite moderate. 

In 2003, Kamala Harris was elected as district attorney in San Francisco by positioning herself as tough on crime. Seven years later in 2010, Harris was elected as attorney general.

As attorney general, Harris started the “Back on Track” program which implemented training that addressed racial bias in law enforcement. 

She also made the California Department of Justice require body cameras for police officers. Harris started Open Justice that would allow the public to track how many civilians were killed by the police. Yet, Harris has continuously contradicted her own police reform. 

In 2011, the U.S Supreme Court found that California prisons were overpopulated, which resulted in cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners. 

Harris’ office combatted releasing prisoners. Harris’ claimed her office made statements without her knowledge. The statement suggested releasing inmates would result in the depletion of prison labor.  

In response to this, Harris said “the idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servitude is one of the worst possible perceptions […] I  feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”  

This statement is not only contradictory but it’s unjust.

According to Inmate Pay at CA.gov, the Inmate Ward Labor and California Prison Industry Authority jobs in California pay wages between $.35 and $1.00 per hour to inmate workers. These are the same wages that prisoners received risking their lives fighting California fires, only to not be able to be a firefighter upon their release. 

Harris supported the death penalty throughout her career as a prosecutor. 

Kevin Cooper has been on death row since 1991 after being convicted of the murder of an adult couple and two children. In February of 2019 California Gov.

Gavin Newsom ordered new DNA testing. In 2004, when Cooper was within hours of being executed as attorney general Harris opposed the new DNA testing that could have cleared Cooper’s name. In 2020 at 62 years old, Cooper has spent more than half his life on death row. 

She recanted her opposition after flaws in the case were presented by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in 2018.

(See more: Opinion | One Test Could Exonerate Him. Why Won’t California Do It? (Published 2018) )

In a time where thousands are combating racism and police brutality through protest and activism, Harris’ history as a prosecutor is deeply concerning. 

This creates complicated emotions for someone like myself who is unsure of her leadership due to her history as a prosecutor. 

Harris will be expected to be the face of every Black person. She will be expected to align herself with the expectations and the stereotypes others expect of the Black community and in many ways, she already has.

All of these expectations and her history alone present obstacles for Harris as the next vice president. 

Harris has positioned herself as a criminal justice reformer and advocate for Black lives throughout her presidential campaign but I find it difficult to believe. 

Will she resort back to her tough-on-crime rhetoric now that she has used reform as a campaign strategy or will she stay true to her word? 

These are the questions I will be asking myself over the next four years. I will also be challenging my own preconceived notions about Harris and trust that she will prove me wrong as vice president. 

The criminal justice system is built on racism and a history of slavery. It is a damaging cycle that prevents communities from advancing. 

Briahna Gray, who worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign, said it better than I could ever say it myself. “To become a prosecutor is to make a choice to align oneself with a powerful and fundamentally biased system.”

I do not want to decide for a whole community whether Harris will be a good leader or not. 

My only concern is that Black people, especially Black women are able to make the autonomous decision about Harris without being judged. We cannot advance if we cannot accept valid criticism of any party and its candidates. I refuse to support any politician unconditionally. 

When people view me, I don’t want them to view me as their monolithic idea of what a Black woman is supposed to be. 

Blackness alone is simply not enough to properly advocate for my community. By viewing Black leaders like Harris as the voice for a community it’s an act of erasure. 

It is my right as an American and as an informed voter to challenge the views of the president and the vice president. It is my right to want more for my country and my community. 

Diversity goes beyond skin color, gender or sexuality. Diversity of thought matters. 

We have to challenge one another to do better. I encourage you all to do the same. 

Reporter Oreoluwa Ojewuyi can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi

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