Under Black Women’s Leadership, the Future of America Is Brighter

Between the Black female activists in Georgia and Kamala Harris’ vice presidency, we are in good hands

Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President on January 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

It comes as no surprise that the demographic of women who are most likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, see their sons disproportionately incarcerated, and represent 22% of American women in poverty are the backbone of American democracy. Across history, Black women, who face compounded hardship based both on their race and gender, have used their frustration as motivation to work toward a fair society for themselves — and for everyone else.

When Kamala Harris was elected to the vice presidency alongside Joe Biden, history was made. Never before had a Black person, a person of South Asian descent, or a woman held the position in American history. But her election wasn’t exciting just for its symbolism, but what it also meant for the direction our country could turn under the guidance of a Black woman. As many have pointed out, Black women have led many of the movements that have fueled true democracy in America. The Stonewall riots were led by Black and Latinx trans women; the legal strategy behind both the civil rights movement and women’s liberation was designed by Pauli Murray, a Black lawyer and women’s rights activist from Baltimore; the #MeToo Movement, which changed our understanding of sexual assault and harassment, and led to increased protections for workers, was created by Tarana Burke, a Black activist from the Bronx. Even Joe Biden’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Black woman organizers like Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown and the 90% of Black women voters who supported Biden far beyond any other demographic.

Even Joe Biden’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Black woman organizers like Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown and the 90% of Black women voters who supported Biden far beyond any other demographic.

It’s very possible that the fair, progressive, and just America most liberals claim to long for could become a reality as more Black women enter leadership roles in politics. Harris’ background gives the former senator and California attorney general a perspective that is not often heard in the predominantly White, male space of the White House. She’s the daughter of immigrants, a demographic which was targeted during the four years of Trump’s presidency, and the graduate of an HBCU, which often face funding and accreditation issues, a problem that rarely exists in predominantly White institutions.

But it is Harris’ experience — that which she shares with other Black women, both past and present — that will make her an effective vice president. While Harris has faced criticism for her prosecutorial record that doesn’t always align with the progressive agenda she effectuates today, as both San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, Harris fought to fix the criminal justice system from the inside — which included both setting up one of the country’s first “Back on Track” programs for low-level drug offenders and fighting to lower the truancy rate in San Francisco. Kim Foxx, a progressive district attorney from Cook County, Illinois, has cited Harris as a mentor. The vice president’s efforts have also been lauded by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who will play a key role in advancing the post-presidency lawsuits that will follow Donald Trump’s adjournment.

In her four years in the Senate, Harris regularly demonstrated a progressive agenda. Her work has ranged from sponsoring, alongside the Senate’s other two Black members, Cory Booker and Tim Scott, a bill to make lynching a federal crime, and working in conjunction with North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams to introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020, which would put an end to preventable maternal mortality and close disparities in maternal health outcomes. Since joining the Biden ticket, Harris has co-sponsor Medicare for All, pushed for $2,000 monthly stimulus checks during the pandemic, and introduced legislation to protect communities from environmental discrimination.

Now, with the Senate tied at 50–50, Harris’s tie-breaking vote will be critical to the implementation of policies promised during Biden’s campaign. Their top priorities include a new Covid relief bill, the formation of a White House gender policy council, and the Lift Every Voice plan, which includes policies and proposals to address systemic racism, including a $900 million grant program to fight gun violence, a Justice Department initiative to crack down on hate crimes, and $1 billion in funds to invest in juvenile justice reform.

Since joining the Biden ticket, Harris has co-sponsored Medicare for All, pushed for $2,000 monthly stimulus checks during the pandemic, and introduced legislation to protect communities from environmental discrimination.

This isn’t to say there’s not still work to be done. A historic number of women of color now serve in Congress, including Black Lives Matter activist and freshman representative Cori Bush. But as Bush recently noted, “there are no Black women in the U.S. Senate because our nation’s second-ever Black woman senator is now becoming our first-ever Black woman VP,” which demonstrates a need to elect more Black women instead of shifting them to different positions.

While neither Harris nor any other Black woman is a monolith, her understanding of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of targeted oppression is an experience often shared by other Black women and, to a lesser extent, other privileged groups. By prioritizing women’s issues, civil rights, and environmental justice, Harris has effectively held conversations that her predecessors simply cannot because of her firsthand perspective on racial inequality and sexism. “What we know is this: Yes, there are issues that explicitly impact the Black community. Simply put, every issue is a Black woman’s issue. And Black women’s issues are everyone’s issues,” she said during a 2018 lecture at Spelman College. It is that knowledge and empathy that just may create the truly fair and free America Black women have only been able to dream about.

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