On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the only Black woman candidate for President of the United States, Sen. Kamala Harris, suspended her presidential campaign.
When Sen. Harris launched her campaign, she was heralded as an immediate “top tier” candidate with the experience, skill, and talent to secure the party nomination.
Her initial fundraising and debate performance allowed her to soar in the polls. And some even labeled her “the female Obama.”
She fearlessly ran as a Black woman embracing her heritage in this country. Yet, she struggled to effectively tell her story and to ensure her vision for America would be heard.
While there are many political analyses as to “why” Sen. Harris had to end her campaign, the underbelly question that African Americans and the Democratic Party must answer is: When will Black women be respected and supported when they stand up and dare to lead?
The timing of Harris’ announcement occurred two days after the first Black mayor of Montgomery, Alabama, Steven L. Reed, unveiled a statue honoring Rosa Parks, the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
Fed up with Southern Jim-Crow laws, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat when a bus driver ordered her to relinquish it. And in doing so she catapulted the struggle for civil rights. Sunday, Dec. 1 marked the 64th Anniversary of Rosa Parks’ historic action and her ensuing arrest.
It is often said: If Rosa Parks had not sat down, then Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have been able to stand up and lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Yes, Black women have been and continue to be vital to the advancement of all humanity, especially women and minorities. Rosa Parks’ contribution is well known. But the contributions of Black women who have stood up to lead in politics, leading up to and including Sen. Kamala Harris, may not be as well known.
Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential bid came to a seemingly abrupt end. And she seemed to face the “electability” scrutiny like no other candidate. The question of “Is a Black woman electable” is a question laced with misogyny and racism.
According to Prairie View University political science professor, Melanye Price, “electability means white male centrist.”
Price says, “In the shadow of America’s first Black president, it seems that only white men who take positions that are more conservative than the party’s base can overcome the misogyny and racism of the current president, not women or racial minorities and certainly not a Black woman.”
As my wife Kimya often says, “The Democratic Party wants our vote; but not our voice, and certainly not our power.”
The question that is unavoidable and one that the Democratic National Committee must face is: When will the party’s most loyal voter be considered and treated as a viable presidential candidate? This is a questions that Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign presented. But she was not the first.
In 1968, Shirley Chisolm became the first Black women elected to the United States Congress and she represented New York’s 12th congressional district from 1969 to 1983. In 1972, she became the first Black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States.
It was Shirley Chisolm who wrote the 1970 book titled, “Unbought and Unbossed,” before launching her presidential bid with the same theme. Shirley Chisolm made history. But she could not secure the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Carol Moseley Braun became the first Black woman elected to the United States Senate and represented Illinois in the Senate from 1993 to 1999. Sen. Moseley Braun was the first and only Black woman elected to the Senate until Sen. Kamala Harris was elected to represent California in 2016.
Following Shirley Chisolm’s historic footsteps, Carol Moseley Braun also launched a presidential campaign in the Democratic Party in 2004. Her presidential campaign continued the legacy of Black women as candidates for president, but she was also unsuccessful in securing the party’s nomination.
There may be a plethora of reasons why Shirley Chisolm, Carol Moseley Braun, and now Kamala Harris could not secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. But that does not diminish their fearlessness in trying. Or their valiant attempts to further amplify the voices of Black people and Black women in particular.
As we remember the 64th anniversary since Rosa Parks sat down on a bus, I could not ignore the contributions of countless black women like Shirley Chisolm, Carol Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris who attempted to stand up in the most visible stage in the world. Our story is nothing without their leadership and their vision.
Despite not succeeding in her presidential bid, Sen. Kamala Harris should be acknowledged as a trailblazer this presidential cycle who effectively raised questions and issues centered on Black people and Black women that others could not.
She remains the only Black woman United States Senator and only the second Black woman in history, after Carol Moseley Braun, to ever assume that office. And Sen. Kamala Harris remains the first and only Indian American to serve in the Senate.
In thinking about these women, past and present, I focused on ensuring my school-age daughters knew their stories.
I want my daughters to understand that they too can be powerful visionaries, organizers, and leaders in the truest sense of the word—just like men.
And that there is great value in their voice and in their leadership – even if not fully recognized by others.
We all benefit from knowing and appreciating the contributions of strong Black women leaders. They have supported us. Now we must support them! As always, keep the faith.