dnc 2020

Kamala Harris Is Ready to Make History

Kamala Harris. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Kamala Harris is officially Joe Biden’s running mate: On Wednesday, the California senator accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination during the third night of its remote national convention, making her the first Black woman, and the first woman of South Asian descent, ever to have been offered the position.

In her speech, Harris aimed a few barbs at Trump — “I know a predator when I see one” — but for the most part, her address seemed intended to bring in the demographics the DNC largely neglected in crafting its speaking lineup: young people, progressives, indigenous people, and people of color.

“That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me,” she said. “Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all.”

Harris spoke of her own experiences as a woman of color, and nodded to the Black women instrumental in getting the 19th Amendment passed and yet sidelined by the suffrage movement. She spoke at length about her mother, an Indian immigrant who raised two daughters mostly on her own. She brought up the deadly effects of structural racism, made glaringly obvious by the coronavirus pandemic. As Politico points out, it was quite possibly the first time ever that a candidate has discussed structural racism, let alone acknowledged it as a concept, in their acceptance speech. Then again, she is probably also the only vice-presidential candidate to have experienced its effects directly.

Harris has serious flaws; in particular, her time as California’s “top cop” attorney general, during which she expressed extreme reticence to investigate killings by police, is a hard one to square with the current movement to end racialized police brutality. And yet she is nonetheless a historic candidate, with a background that speaks to voters unused to seeing themselves represented on a national party ticket.

Harris’s speech was light on policy specifics, and spoken into an almost empty room, a setting that felt somewhat disorienting. But she made her strongest points when she focused on legacy. “Years from now, this moment will have passed, and our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and they’re going to ask us, ‘Where were you when the stakes were so high?’” she said. “We will tell them not just how we felt, we will tell them what we did.”

What she has done so far: Hold her running mate’s feet to the fire in addressing his own track record on race, and its implications for her childhood. Indicated that she believes at least some of the women who have accused him of inappropriate touching. And made history, as the first woman of color to be nominated to the vice-presidency.

Kamala Harris Is Ready to Make History