OPINION
10/11/2020 14:58 GMT

Don't Expect Kamala Harris To Be Progressive Because She's A Woman Of Colour

Just because people look like you doesn’t mean their policies will positively benefit your life, writes Anya Ryan.

POOL New / Reuters
Harris’ face alone is not enough to revolutionise the state of American politics, and people are right to be cautious

The image of Kamala Harris, the first mixed-race woman elected as US Vice President, commanding the stage in Delaware in an all-white trouser suit was historic.

In a moment so many women of colour thought we’d never see, a half Black, half South Asian woman spoke of her hopes to reform the country that has endured four long years of the Trump administration’s racism and sexism.

For the first time, a woman who looks like us has been given the power to make huge change. The significance of her presence in the White House is monumental. 

But despite what her election has undoubtedly done for political representation, it does not mean that the issues faced by Black and Brown people throughout the United States will miraculously disappear. Harris’ face alone is not enough to revolutionise the state of American politics, and people are right to be cautious.

Take one look at her voting history, and the perception of her election as being radical will begin to crumble. Previously proudly describing herself as both a “top cop” and a “progressive prosecutor”, Harris has repeatedly failed to address the faults within the criminal justice system and in turn, has time and time again overlooked the needs of those from marginalised communities. 

In 2014, while in the position of California’s Attorney General, she appealed the ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional, and in 2015, she opposed a bill that demanded an investigation into police shootings in San Francisco.

This, alongside her office refusing to release non violent offenders early on parole and her introduction of the anti-truancy program that threatened to prosecute the parents of children who skipped school, shows a confusion between Harris’ past policies and her current paraded liberal identity.  

Her “cop” persona makes her more of a moderate than revolutionary, but it doesn’t stop there. She has vocally opposed calls to decriminalise sex work. She has supported the controversial SESTA/FOSTA anti sex trafficking legislation that set out to hold website publishers responsible for third-party ads marketing trafficking on their sites, and has remained silent on issues including trans rights and the rights of those incarcerated.

In short, even though she’s a woman of colour, we can’t expect her time in the White House to be progressive.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The presence of Black and Brown people in politics has not always gone hand in hand with them advocating for social reform.

Labelling Kamala Harris as the poster girl for political change, anti-racism and progressive reform is misguided.

Just look at Priti Patel here in Britain – a British Asian woman who has repeatedly denied the presence of racism, argued in favour of the death penalty, and campaigned tirelessly to end free movement.

And, during the eight years of Barack Obama’s landmark presidency, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, and the poverty rate among African Americans fell to its lowest since 1999.

Just because people who look like you have a place in politics, it doesn’t automatically mean that their policies will positively benefit your life. 

So what does this mean for people of colour, and our view of Harris as Vice President?

Well, it’s hard not to feel like her election is a step in the right direction. As the camera panned away from Harris in her acceptance speech on Saturday, the faces of women of colour, white women, and young girls were seen, genuinely moved to tears.

Harris’ mere presence in the White House has created for them, and so many more, a sense of possibility.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she vowed. Never before have young Black and Brown women been able to see themselves in such an important position – and that has to count for something.  

But labelling Kamala Harris as the poster girl for political change, anti-racism and progressive reform is misguided.

Instead, we should appreciate her vice presidential election for what it is – overdue representation and hope that the women who follow in her footsteps, will want to make more significant and lasting change. 

Anya Ryan is a freelance journalist.