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Since Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked California Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif) as his running mate, there have been mixed reactions on social media about the decision. While many praised it as a way to elevate women in the political spectrum, there are those that are skeptical due to her controversial history as District Prosecutor and Attorney General of California.
“Feelings about Kamala are complicated. On one hand, it’s exciting to have a Black woman as a VP nom — the gut reaction is: She will clean up the mess. BUT we also can’t ignore her history as a prosecutor. Double consciousness rears its head again,” said Teen Vogue Culture and Entertainment Director Dani Kwateng in a tweet.
Biden choosing a woman of color as a vice presidential nominee is a strategic yet historical decision that not only hints that we may have our first Black and first Asian American female president, but also provides an open opportunity for women of color to run for the Presidential ticket in both major parties.
While I would like to acknowledge that this is a historic, groundbreaking decision for women (especially women of color) in the political sphere, it would be harmful to overlook controversies that can affect many people widescale in the United States. However, it does not excuse the misogynoir from White House officials to media personnel.
“The intersections of Kamala Harris being a black woman, as well as being a woman of color is the misogynoir,” Jones said. “We have seen examples of this where there are off-the-wall Newsweek guy that said ‘the Fourteenth Amendment does not promise citizenship’ and that she may not be qualified to be VP, and it’s crazy,” said UNO Black Studies Professor Peggy Jones.
Jones said these claims are often projected, enlarged and magnified, especially when White House officials promote the claims on social media.
President Trump spoke to reporters at a news briefing on August 14, where he falsely assumed that Harris is ineligible to run for the Presidency because her parents were immigrants.
“I have no idea if that’s right,” he stated in the news briefing. “I would have thought, I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”
Although the attacks Sen. Kamala Harris has received are inappropriate and the worst kind of misogynoir women of color in the political realm should face, it shouldn’t overshadow the legitimate criticisms about her tenure as Attorney General of California during 2010 to 2017.
“When I heard some of the policies that she promoted as Attorney General of, I knew that I needed to look more and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn about her,” Jones said.
At the second Democratic Debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard criticized Harris for her record as Attorney General that disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities.
“She put over 1500 people in jail for marijuana violation,” Gabbard said in the debate. “She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.”
Gabbard stated that Harris kept prisoners beyond their sentencing for “cheap labor for the state of California” and criticized her stance on keeping cash-bail systems that negatively impact low-class citizens.
While running for Attorney General in 2010, Harris promoted an anti-truancy bill, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to allow truancy to be punishable by law.
The California Legislature defined truancy, stating that if students missing more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year, the student is considered habitually truant where the parent is fined $100 for first-time violation, $250 fine for second violation and a $500 fine for third or further convictions, according to the bill.
The bill also states that the parent of a chronic truant will be subjected to a yearlong jail sentence if the fine accumulates to $2000.
However, in a Pod Save American podcast, when asked if she would support the law as President of the United States, Harris declined and said that the law had “unintended consequences.”
“My concern was if we don’t take it seriously the need that society should have to ensure that our children are receiving the benefit of an education, we will pay the price later and those kids will pray the price,” Harris said in the interview.
Harris also explained that there was no distinction of the education code between short-term truancy, meaning 3 days or more, and long-term truancy where students miss 80 days or more of school.
Harris said now, the bill defines chronic truancy as 10% or more classes missed in the school year to provide distinction between “light” and chronic truancy.
“My regret is that I have now heard stories where, in some jurisdictions, DAs have criminalized the parents,” Harris said. “because that certainly never was the intention.”
The interview is evidence that VP nominee Kamala Harris is open on listening to issues. But listening is one thing, and acting on the issue is another.
“There are black voters who were and are going to be hung up on everything she did in California, where they believe it was horrible.”
Jones said even though Harris’ controversies as District Attorney and Attorney General prompted her to be skeptical about the candidate, she said she has faith in her candidacy, and it did not change the decision to vote for her.
Jones said she would hope that Harris would illustrate the nuance of black experience and to address harmful policies that affect communities like the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, promoted by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware)
“I would hope that she would be very clear and listen to a range of voters on what can we do to make this country a safer place,’ and to provide policies that would enable a more visible nuance of being Black in this country that she can contribute, for me as a Black woman,” Jones said.
Leaders have made mistakes, even ones that can harm many of their citizens, but the actions taken to correct these mistakes are what should be focused on when it comes to choosing who should lead our country.