Kamala Harris made history on Wednesday, becoming the first nonwhite woman to officially accept nomination major-party presidential ticket. And she didn’t shy away from discussing the persistent racism that dogs America.
“While this virus touches us all, we’ve got to be honest, it is not an equal opportunity, offender, Black, Latino, and indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately. And this is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism,” Harris said, calling out broad inequities in education, healthcare, policing and the economy.
“This virus, it has no eyes. And yet, it knows exactly how we see each other, and how we treat each other. And let’s be clear: There is no vaccine for racism,” she said.
It was a striking moment for the first Black woman and first Indian American woman on a presidential ticket. And it, along with the rest of the Democratic program, showed how fast both Democrats’ and the country as a whole’s conversation about race has grown a lot direct as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and in the wake of a pandemic that is killing non-white Americans at a disproportionate rate.
Harris spent a significant amount of time on her own biography, talking about how her parents met through the civil rights movement and her “stroller’s eye view” of protests as a child. She highlighted that she went to a historically black college.
Even had Harris and Democrats decided to soft-pedal racial issues, they’re a major part of this campaign. The BLM protests dominated the summer, and President Trump has already looked to reboot the kind of racist birther attacks he used to first jump into politics to go after Harris. But it’s notable that Democrats aren’t shrinking from the fight or looking to discuss racial issues through the prism of economics.
Harris was far from the only speaker to take on structural racism in a way Democrats would have skittered away from in the past. Elizabeth Warren, speaking in a classroom in front of letter blocks spelling out BLM, made a point to discuss how the coronavirus pandemic was “falling hardest on Black and Brown families.” Hillary Clinton said asked people to “vote for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, because Black Lives Matter.”
President Obama gave extended remarks tying the Black Lives Matter movement to the original Civil Rights Movement — a clearer exploration of race than he sometimes looked to emphasize during his own presidential runs, cognizant of the risk of alienating white voters as the nation’s first Black major-party presidential nominee.
And the normal people convention planners chose to highlight were mostly women, much younger and more diverse than the early nights of the convention, from Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez to a diverse group of young climate activists to a Hispanic family with an undocumented immigrant mother, one DREAMer daughter and another who as a U.S. citizen who pledged to vote for them as she opposed Trump.
It was a notable focus, especially after the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention, where the slate of speakers skewed older, white and more male and moderate. Democrats hadn’t exactly avoided the issue, with callouts and video montages honoring Black Lives Matter and other protest movements and women of color serving as emcees for each night’s event..
But except for Michelle Obama’s Monday speech, where she acknowledged that some Americans who wouldn’t listen to her because she was a Black woman, the convention’s program had largely focused on other messages up until Wednesday, hammering Trump for the economic calamity and human tragedy that his response to the coronavirus has caused. A bevy of national security experts and former Republicans had dominated the schedule, with Biden’s wife Jill closing Tuesday night’s program.
Not so on Wednesday night. And Democrats made clear whose side they were on in the fight for racial justice.
Cover: Kamala Harris becomes the first non-white woman to accept the nomination for vice president of a major political party in the United States. (Democratic National Committee)