Kamala Harris, The Black Feminist's Dream?
Harris understands "what it means to be a professional Black woman who advocates for Black women and, by extension, Black people."
The first wave of the feminist movement began during the late 19th century. This foundational era dealt primarily with Women’s suffrage (i.e. the right to vote). Margaret Sanger was a prominent figure during this time. However, Sanger was problematic given her beliefs in Eugenics. Eugenics led to the founding of Planned Parenthood. Eugenics also had a very dark side which was aligned with the Nazism of the 1930s and 1940s. This Eugenicist ideology inevitably led to the sterilization of thousands of Black women throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Soujourner Truth was a prominent African American women’s rights activist during the first wave of the feminist movement. But given the nature and setting of the era, African American women were left out of this first wave of feminism.
The second wave of feminism dealt with the legal and social rights of women. This included abortion, discrimination and equality. At its outset, this new iteration of feminism seemed like it would be more inclusive. However, a familiar sense of disillusionment pushed African American women to the margins due to the lack of intersectionality. Intersectionality is essentially a term which embodies how different systems of power and/or oppression come together to impact different portions of society. The first and second wave of feminism lacked this understanding. Subsequently, African American woman who suffered from Jim Crow poverty, discrimination, and sexual violence as a consequence of racism were not acknowledged.
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African American Women were halted from attaining the gains that white women did. Early feminist activists were often racist and naïve. Susan B. Anthony stated that “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the negro and not the woman.” But as Soujourner Truth questioned, “ain't I a woman?”
Black women lack the privilege to focus solely on the issues faced by white woman. There was a different set of needs that attached themselves to their blackness. The Combahee River Collective (CRC) was a feminist Black collective from Boston, Massachusetts that was started in 1974. The CRC had a lasting impact on the movement. They fought for the rights of Black women and all woman in general. The CRC understood intersectionality before it ever became an official term, coined in 1989 by civil rights activist and attorney Kimberle Williams Crenshaw. They attacked racism, gender and poverty with a nuanced understanding. The Black woman’s plight is very unique. At this very moment, Black women suffer from child mortality rates and pregnancy complications, which rival those of women residing in developing countries.
The achievements of Senator Kamala Harris are due to this aforementioned groundwork. This includes the groundwork of The Combahee River Collective. A groundwork which was limitless in scope. The CRC placed a lens on sterilization abuse, rape, welfare advocacy and the fight against racism within the mainstream feminist movement.
Senator Harris is a first generation American who was born in Oakland, California. Both of her parents were civil rights activists. As a young attorney, Senator Harris was a seemingly progressive prosecutor during an overtly regressive era (1990s tough on crime era).
Some feel that Senator Harris is not Black enough due to her mixed heritage and her white husband. About 30% of the Black population within this country consists of immigrant and/or first generation Americans. Blackness is and always has been complex and multilayered. Many African Americans from Miami are actually Bahamians, and many New Orleanians are distant Haitians. Senator Harris is the descendant of chattel slavery in the Americas. As a consequence, her blackness shouldn’t be questioned in that regard.
Harris’ marital status to a white man does not overtly alter her views on certain issues or her personal experiences. Many Black male civil rights activists were believed to have exclusively laid with white woman (i.e. Harry Belafonte). However, this did not lessen the vigor with which they fought. As a Black woman who operated in this world pre Black Lives Matter, I am 100% sure Senator Harris understands what it means to be who she is.
Some journalist attack her stance as a prosecutor. There is a necessity for Black prosecutors; the issue is how you conduct yourself in this position rather than the actual position. All prosecutors act within certain constraints. However, one can still be fair and understanding. One can be in the system and still realize that the system is flawed.
Black women are the political drivers of our ship. If Black women do not come to a consensus on Senator Harris, our vote will fragment. 53% of white woman voted for Donald Trump. We can’t depend on woman in general to push Senator Harris forward. Presidential elections are determined by a couple thousand votes in metropolitan areas, which by extension swing the state. If you believe Senator Harris is the best choice, now is not the time to hesitate for grievances which she cannot control and/or do not matter on the larger scale.
Is Senator Harris the most overt feminist? No. However, she does understand what it means to be a professional Black woman who advocates for Black women and, by extension, Black people.
She is the only candidate with a Black agenda. Bernie Sanders doesn’t believe in reparations, and Senator Cory Booker subscribes to the "rising tide lifts all boats" ideology that hampered President Obama’s presidency. Senator Harris seems to be the only progressive candidate who has not waivered on these issues. She has railed against the GOP and the effects that their "slash and go" spending practices have on women. Senator Harris has spoken loudly for the voiceless when many tried to silence her. For the majority of her professional career, Senator Harris has advocated for Black people through a lens of intersectionality, which is directly related to the ideology of the Combahee River Collective.
Subsequently, she stands on the shoulders of her direct ancestors who were raped and brutalized on Caribbean plantations. She stands on the shoulders of those ancestors who fought for her ability to take this leap. If there was no Shirley Chisolm, there would not be a Kamala Harris. It is clear that she will move the ball forward if and when she becomes President. At this moment, she is a projection of what the realization of Black feminism in this new age could be. Thus, it is up to the citizenry to determine if she is their realization of Black feminism.