The scrutiny of Kamala Harris is nothing new for women of color

Washington, DC, USA - Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris as a Presidential candidate Photo: VP Brothers / Shutterstock

President Joe Biden had a cancerous lesion successfully removed from his chest last month. At 80, questions continue about his fitness to serve a second term. Questions also abound concerning Vice President Kamala Harris’s job performance and ability to lead the country if Biden cannot. And they’re from various corners of the political spectrum – Republicans, FOX News, and even Democrats.

“She had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country,” several Democrats told The New York Times.

Harris has held the office since 2020. She struggles to carve out a lane for herself and feels the weight of being the first Black and Asian American to be the nation’s vice president. However, with an approval rating no higher than 39 percent from multiple polls, can Harris convince the American public she and Biden deserve a second term?

The “can’t win for losing” conundrum

Harris supporters contest that she is set up to fail with unwinnable assignments, like curbing immigration from Central America and expanding restrictive voting rights in stronghold GOP states. Republicans and Democrats, however, are unhappy with Harris’s job performance on immigration. 

Republicans are having a field day pointing to the unstoppable high volume of migrant crossings and drug trafficking under her watch. They assert that Harris’s ineptitude as the Border Czar has aided and abetted Mexican drug cartels -the Sinaloa and the new generation Jalisco – in contributing to the high incidents of fentanyl deaths in the United States. 

Harris didn’t help herself in a tense interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in June 2021. When queried why she had not visited the US-Mexico border since taking office, Harris retorted that her team did. Holt, however, pressed her further on the issue.

“You haven’t been to the border,” Holt shot back.

Republicans have made Harris the face of Biden’s immigration policy to win political ground in 2024. However, Harris isn’t scoring high within her party either. 

The Democratic party is holding out in enthusiastically endorsing Harris for a second term. Last month on Boston Public Radio, Elizabeth Warren full-throatily endorsed Biden. However, when it came to Harris, she demurred, sending shockwaves throughout the party and a signal to Kamala. When asked why she was not endorsing Harris now, Warren stated on BPR, “That wasn’t a hard no, but it wasn’t a hard yes either.”

Harris is between a rock and a hard place within her party. She stirred debate, ire, and criticism in the progressive wing and with immigrant rights groups when she emphatically told Guatemalans “do not come” to the US because they would be turned away. Her directive was seen as a betrayal to immigrants seeking asylum, reactionary to right-wing pressure, and tone-deaf to why many flee their countries. 

Harris blew up social media with her remarks. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lambasted Harris on Twitter, stating, “It would be helpful if the US would finally acknowledge its contributions to destabilization and regime change in the region. Doing so can help us change US foreign policy, trade policy, climate policy, & carceral border policy to address causes of mass displacement & migration.”

The politics of being the first

The job of the veep is to support the president. Harris has to be politically adept not to outshine Biden or to disappear in his shadow. Striking the right balance is difficult in this polarized era, especially for a woman of color who identifies as black. The “angry black” trope hovers over all sisters of African descent. Harris runs the risk of being too loud, too forceful, not knowing her place, not staying in her lane, and being arrogant, albeit she is the vice president. Harris must walk a tightrope to avoid this misogynoir trope while asserting her power and authority. Also, she mustn’t be a titular head for fear of being perceived as unqualified or tokenized. Research shows that Harris is one of the most targeted politicians on the internet, and FOX News runs a constant thread of bogus articles about her.  

The intersexuality of her race and gender is weaponized to discredit her ability. It’s unsurprising to women and people of color that Harris was set up for failure when appointed as the highest-profile point person on an immigration policy that previous administrations couldn’t resolve. 

Harris’s blunders are magnified, and her victories muted.

“People need to cut Kamala some slack… she’s got a tough job. She’s not an eloquent speaker like Obama, but she’s strong in her delivery,” Corinne Copper, a white Southerner of Lewisville, NC, told LGBTQ Nation. “Vice President Harris has cast the tie-breaking vote 26 times in an evenly split Senate. Her position may prove essential with women’s reproductive freedom under attack.”

 Harris has accomplished a lot since taking office. Alongside Biden, Harris has helped America get vaccinated, rebuild the economy after COVID, led Congress to protect voter’s rights by building a broad and diverse coalition, expand workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain, and protect women’s reproductive justice since the overturn of Roe v Wade

In 2024, Harris will have my vote again.

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