Her flame of imprisoned lightning beckons to the yearning of the huddled masses. The Mother of Exiles peers down upon the wretched refuse of this teeming shore and smiles upon us, knowing that the clarion call of her burning torch has finally been heard. We are the fulfillers of Lady Liberty’s promise.
Kamala Harris is close to becoming the almost president.
This is how my thinkpiece begins.
Managing Editor Genetta Adams: Michael, Don’t refer to this as a “thinkpiece.” Just write it.
Michael Harriot: Look, I told y’all last week that Biden was going to pick her as his running mate. Why am I even writing this?
GA: Your paycheck.
MH: Fair point
You’re going to read a lot about Kamala Harris.
Having authored an extensive deep-dive into Harris’ past more than a year ago—which was shortly after Harris sat down with Senior Reporter Terrell Starr for a long-form interview that still stands as her most in-depth interview on Black America, but before Harris called me for a one-on-one interview to answer our questions about how COVID-19, mail-in voting and police brutality will affect African Americans—The Root is still required to publish at least one thinkpiece gushing over Kamala Harris to keep our media licenses.
Despite Senior Editor Stephen Crockett’s prediction, Admiral Joe Biden didn’t mess this up. I knew he wouldn’t. It’s not like Joe Biden doesn’t make mistakes. Remember that one time he said some stupid shit? Or that other time? Or how about that time he made that dumb comment? Maybe you remember this one. Or this incident. (Note to editor: Just Google “Joe Biden said...” and link to the stories. I’m busy.)
The digital mediasphere is already overflowing with 1,000-word, grandiloquent essays about the first Black woman and the first South Asian-American to earn the vice-presidential nomination. You probably know that Harris attended an HBCU, which I will not mention because—it’s not like every single person who ever attended that school hasn’t texted you already. (I wouldn’t know. I blocked every single AKA in my phone for 48 hours and refuse to answer a phone call from who attended H****d University until after Labor Day.)
I’m sure all the multisyllabic, prefabricated meditations will explain how Biden’s selection shows the promise of America. (You gotta use a version of the word “ruminate” in a thinkpiece.) Some will call her smart and politically astute and mention her debate performances. The New York Times already branded Harris as a “political fighter” while the Washington Post dubbed her a “quick learner” with “genuine star power.”
Most will reluctantly admit that Harris is Black and that she is a woman. Almost none will say that she was chosen because she is a Black woman because that would imply that she got the job because of her race and her color. No one will even say that she is a “diversity hire” because that would be a terrible premise for a thinkpiece.
Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his vice president because she is a Black woman.
She is a diversity hire and she is the best person for the job.
Someone should say that.
And...well, I had to write something.
Many people, including some well-meaning non-white Americans, subconsciously accept the destructive presumption of whiteness as a default. They assume that it is simply an astonishing coincidence that white people make up 90 percent of the Senate, 98 percent of the U.S. presidents, 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 95 percent of U.S billionaires.
A few days ago, during the annual conference for the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, I participated in a Twitter chat about diversity in media. When asked for an actionable item that would make newsrooms more diverse, I replied that newsrooms should reflect the communities they cover, which prompted some backlash from a few people who insisted that companies should simply hire the “best” person for the job.
I am reminded of these responses when I see the debate over Harris’ selection. Specifically, there are people who say that Kamala Harris was only chosen because she is a Black woman.
Historically, whether it is a newsroom or the Oval Office, in America, white people were the ones who defined the word “best.” They got to set the terms and conditions that determined whether or not someone was qualified for anything. To deny this fact is to believe that, in the 244-year history of this country, only one Black man was competent enough to be president, and only two Black women—Carol Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris—had the skills and capabilities to serve in the U.S. Senate.
The acceptance of whiteness as a coincidental but unimportant common quality of most of America’s power brokers necessarily comes with the presumption that whiteness has nothing to do with the continued existence of white supremacy.
Make no mistake: Donald Trump is president because he is a white man. His education, business experience and ascent to the presidency are all due to his whiteness. And as president, he makes no qualms about only representing the concerns of his white base. Regardless of how one may feel about Bernie Sanders, he has displayed a Rumpelstiltskin-like ability to spin every racial disparity into a golden excuse about economic inequality. However, no one thinks of Bernie Sanders as a racist. The reason he thinks like an old white man from Vermont is probably because he is an old white man from Vermont, as is Vermont’s senior senator, its lone congressional representative and its entire state House of Representatives.
Part of the reason why systemic inequality is so pervasive is that, for most of American history, white people were the only ones who had the power and privilege to fix it. Of course, white voters cite their “economic anxiety” to explain why they voted for an inexperienced candidate like Donald Trump. We have also elected presidents because of military experience, their faith and their legislative resumes. Therefore, it shouldn’t be so difficult for these deep-thinkers to acknowledge the indisputable fact that whiteness has always been a prerequisite requirement for entering newsrooms, boardrooms and the halls of power. Perhaps white men just happen to have all of the historic power, intelligence and experience but are incapable of dismantling white supremacy because they are white.
The only other logical conclusion is that white people are smarter than Black people.
But if these white candidates are actually the “best people for the job,” the only explanation for why they haven’t aggressively addressed and fixed these systemic issues is that they don’t want to fix them, which must mean they are not the best people for the job.
The only Black president we’ve ever had was better at presidenting than any other president in our lifetime. All of the white presidents and all of the white veeps so far have been terrible at addressing white supremacy. And the reason white people are terrible at fixing racism is that most white people got their jobs, in part, because they are white. There are more white diversity hires than all of the employed Black people in America.
And in a time where systemic racism, police brutality and economic inequality are more important than ever to voters who make up the Democratic Party’s base, maybe—just hear me out—Kamala Harris is more qualified for the job because she is a Black woman.
The media’s intentionally disingenuous hopscotching over this issue is as infuriating for Black people as white people must feel when they see Kamala Harris get nominated for the second-most-powerful position in America because of her gender and color of her skin. However, white people probably don’t know a word for when someone’s race offers a privilege that is not afforded to others.
Maybe someone should write a thinkpiece about it.