The most important thing for voters to know when considering Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris isn’t her extreme, pro-abortion positions. Nor is it her record of anti-Catholic bigotry, manifested in her attacks on the Knights of Columbus club and harassment of public, Catholic organizations. Nor is it that her voting record is one of the most liberal of any current U.S. senator. Rather, if prominent media and pundits are to be believed, it’s that she’s a black woman.
Following Harris’s Oct. 7 debate with Vice President Mike Pence, the Washington Post published two separate articles, both by black female writers, focusing on the fact that Harris is a black woman. Michele Norris argued that Harris’s “smirk” is “black women’s superpower.” Karen Attiah claimed, “America hates to let Black women speak.”
Attiah added: “For Black women, this was, in prime time, like watching Whiteness and the patriarchy at work. … I yearn for an America where non-White women don’t have to battle for the bare minimum: to be allowed to speak.”
There were plenty more. The Los Angeles Times featured an op-ed by Erika D. Smith titled, “Harris showed Black women how to be ‘angry’ and handle a condescending white man.” Smith opined, “Harris reset the notion of what is acceptable behavior for Black women interacting with white men in power,” while “exposing Pence for the overconfident, condescending, weak and scared white man that he really is.”
USA Today’s Alia E. Dastagir declared that “Pence’s treatment of Harris during VP debate shows challenges Black women in politics face.” These challenges include “mansplaining” and “repeated interruptions.” Maggie Astor at The New York Times explained that Harris faced a racist and sexist “double standard” during the debate.
The Left Is Delusional About Harris
There is another double standard at work in all of this commentary on the vice presidential debate and American politics in 2020. While Harris’s race and sex — both biological realities a person has absolutely no control over — are praised as wonderful and inspiring, Pence’s race and sex are considered political liabilities. Pundits celebrate Harris as black and female. They deride Pence as white and male. Who exactly are the racists here?
Of course, exploiting the language of identity politics to label Harris a victim and an embodiment of all the terrible injustices other “women of color” face is politically clever. Applying this optic, any criticisms leveled against Harris can simply be shrugged off, if not maligned, as racist or sexist. When Harris employs smirks and righteous indignation, they are black female superpowers. If Pence attempts them, they are emblematic of the white, racist patriarchy — checkmate.
This is false and ridiculous. Harris has had an extremely successful professional career as both an attorney and a politician, and she comes from success: Her mother was a biologist and her father an economics professor. No one can claim with a straight face that she has been the victim of an oppressive, patriarchal American system.
Rather, while her life may have seen some race-related setbacks and slights, she has also clearly taken great advantage of the many remarkable freedoms and opportunities available to her in this great nation. Any instances of racism have not held her back. If she has faced discrimination in her life, no one has successfully silenced her. No one has stopped her from pursuing excellence.
Many other black women in America indicate the untruth of this broad narrative. In the last presidential administration, the first lady was a widely acclaimed black female who generated and guided her own political projects, including combating childhood obesity. Susan Rice, another black woman, served as both U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser, one of the most important foreign policy positions in the U.S. government.
In the administration before that, Condoleezza Rice served as secretary of state, a senior-level position multiple people have used as a stepping stone to run for president, including Thomas Jefferson and Hillary Clinton.
Nor is the claim even true of the people making it. Norris, Attiah, and Smith are writing from the commanding, elite heights of mainstream media. Thousands upon thousands of Americans read every single word they put to print. Yet we’re expected to believe some canard about how their voices are being silenced?
Didn’t black female journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones win the Pulitzer Prize last year for her 1619 Project in The New York Times? Are not the major arguments of the 1619 Project being disseminated not only across the media but throughout national grade-school and university curricula? The very life stories of such women disprove the victimhood too many of these same women proclaim.
Race and Sex Rhetoric Destroys America’s Discourse
The problem with this trope isn’t just that it’s false. It also further erodes America’s already fragile public discourse. It transforms every exchange in the public square into an ideological minefield of race and gender theory aimed at demonizing their opponents right out of the gate.
Rather than attempt good-faith discussion or debate, victimization narratives enable their users to outflank interlocutors by accusing them of racism or sexism. Even to call the objects of this ersatz tour-de-force “interlocutors” is imprecise — they’re more like hapless scapegoats.
The end result of all this is a toxic, destructive, winner-take-all culture that denigrates one’s ideological enemies into silence and subservience. It is, as Rod Dreher notes in his new book “Live Not By Lies,” a form of totalitarianism that subverts democratic norms of respect and civility. We know what happens to those accused of racism and sexism. They are mocked, scorned, and, if sufficient pressure is applied, canceled out of polite society and even their jobs.
Certainly, many incredible black women worth celebrating have not indulged in toxic identity politics propaganda. Besides Rice, one might also consider Vanderbilt emeritus professor and Tennessee politician Carol M. Swain, writer Chloé Simone Valdary, and author Zora Neale Hurston of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” fame.
Such examples aside, we should celebrate or criticize people not primarily because of their race or sex, but based on their ability to exemplify excellence and virtue. Harris obviously has some admirable qualities, for no one can achieve what she has in 55 years of life without brains and determination. Is any reasonable person on the right arguing otherwise?
Harris has also, however, endorsed and promoted policies worthy of careful consideration and critique. It would be for the national good if pundits could stop reducing the senator to her pigmentation and biology and discuss the issues that will tangibly affect the American electorate she aims to serve.