Make no mistake, Kamala Harris, not Joe Biden, is on the Democratic ticket as the face of the leadership the country is demanding now. Her vice presidential candidacy, in essence, is a bid to become America’s second Black president.
Biden is running as the Democrats’ fixit man, pledging to restore normalcy and decency to American politics. Harris’ role is symbolic, as veep choices usually are, but what she represents is truly substantive this time: Harris, a Black woman, embodies the most dependable constituency of the Democratic Party, a voting bloc that is finally rising in power and getting its due.
Harris also clearly understands her connection to Black Lives Matter and other grassroots racial justice movements that have been pushing the country toward antiracism for the last four months with historic success.
She is no progressive, but when Harris recites the names of the dead Black men and women whose killings have sent hundreds of thousands into the streets this year, as she did in a speech Thursday attacking President Trump’s policies, she directly acknowledges that it is her job to carry the urgency of Black grievances forward. Those grievances put Harris on the ticket; her lens, not Biden’s, is the one through which Americans are seeing themselves in 2020.
And what a difference 12 years make. Back in 2008, candidate Barack Obama won over the country by Disney-fying Blackness to some degree, selling his Kansas-Kenya-Hawaii story as but one shining example of American diversity that theoretically transcended red and blue state consciousness. That set the tone for a similarly soft focus on Blackness in his administration. However sympathetic the Obama White House was to racial justice, the administration always seemed to fear alienating the white people who voted for him. Obama rarely spoke directly to or about African Americans when it came to policy. It was the classic paradox of integration — the more accepted by the mainstream Black people become, the more constrained they are about bluntly speaking their truth — and progress against racism stalls.