Kamala Harris Did Not Fail

Running for president isn’t easy, especially when race trumps all

Farai Chideya
ZORA
Published in
6 min readDec 6, 2019

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Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images

“E“Eleven months ago, at the launch of our campaign in Oakland, I told you all, ‘I am not perfect.’” Kamala Harris chose those careful words as she terminated her race to become the United States’ 46th president. But those of us autopsying her campaign should ask if a Black woman in America could be anything less than perfect, or at least perfectly lucky, to be elected president in the middle of a racialized culture war.

As I watched the inevitable flurry of articles about her exit from the race (and yes, this is another one), two songs popped into my mind. One was “I’m Not Your Superwoman.” No one is, but any Black woman running for president is given an unforgiving path forward. The other was Lizzo’s “Like a Girl.” Woke up feeling like I just might run for president / Even if there ain’t no precedent / Switching up the messagin’ / I’m about to add a little estrogen…

This is not to say Harris should (or shouldn’t) have been the nominee. She reportedly had disagreements among her campaign staff, and most importantly, in the end, failed to nail her fundraising targets. But as we mark her exit from the race, we need to understand the dynamics outside of her control which likely shaped the arc of her candidacy. All politics, as we have learned from the Trump era, are identity politics. And Harris’ identity as a Black female former prosecutor with a South Asian mother all figured into how she was perceived, the strategy she chose, and whether and how she advanced. It also shows how much of the race for the presidency is an art rather than a science.

Presidential analysts and campaigns have become obsessed with data, for both better and worse. But data alone can’t adequately explain what happened here, especially considering that to run at all was an act of audacious self-assurance. But what we do know is this: Crowded fields include the assumption that White candidates are the only consensus candidates — not just among White voters, but Black and non-White ones. The racial scar tissue of the Trump era is thick and real. And, in terms of pure data analysis, gender bias in voter preference is harder to study. That means we simply can’t put a reliable number on how the intersection of race and gender…

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Farai Chideya
ZORA
Writer for

Radio show/podcast “Our Body Politic” @ farai.com/our-body-politic. Covered every Presidential election 1996–2020. Books include “The Episodic Career.”