Why Kamala Harris’ Rise Is So Remarkable

As the sexist and racist attacks against Kamala Harris pile on, there’s one line of criticism that is particularly ripe for debunking. That’s the idea that Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate for president, is some kind of “affirmative action hire,” chosen not on her merits but as a “box-checking exercise for the ‘woke’ crowd,” as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham put it.

The implication here is that Harris isn’t qualified for the role. Of course that’s absurd.

Harris has more than a decade of experience at the highest levels of government, including as San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and as a senator from the most populous state in the country. She’s proven herself on the national stage, especially in her role on the Judiciary Committee, where she won plaudits for her skillful questioning of Trump appointees.

But like most women of color — Harris is both Black and Asian American — she has had to work harder to get to where she is than white men in comparable positions. One example: the current president, who’d never held public office prior to his election. This dynamic was made plain at the start of the Democratic presidential primary when Harris ran against a one-term congressman, the mayor of a small city and several rich guys with no political experience, all of them white.

The reality is: The deck is stacked against women of color, and particularly Black women, in this country. The ones who make it to the top, like Harris, overcome an astonishing array of obstacles.

Gender played a role in the selection of both Kamala Harris and Tim Kaine. But only in Harris’ case was there speculation that she was unqualified.
That’s true in politics, where Black women, despite some recent incredible gains, are still woefully underrepresented. There’s never been a Black female governor in the U.S. There have only been two Black female senators, one of whom is Harris. If Biden and Harris win, there might be no Black women in the Senate next year.

To understand better what Black women are up against, look at the American workplace, a maze of bias and discrimination that can leave all women feeling burned out, beaten down and disheartened.

For Black women though, it’s worse. “I don’t think people understand how constant and numerous the barriers facing Black women are at work,” said Raena Saddler, a vice president at Lean In, the women’s advocacy group.

Black women have a harder time getting hired, getting promoted and face more outright discrimination, notes a report Lean In released this week.

They get little benefit of the doubt from colleagues. Forty percent of Black women surveyed by Lean In say they need to provide more evidence to prove they’re competent at work, compared to 28% of white women and 14% of all men. About the same percentage of Black women say that their judgment is questioned in their area of expertise, versus 39% of white women and 29% of all men.

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