With the recent announcement of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate in the race for the Presidency of the United States, the blatant racism of Republicans continues to show itself. As if the obvious disregard for Black lives in their opposition to Black Lives Matter was not enough, “birtherism” has seen a major resurgence. The same baseless attacks that were aimed at President Obama, questioning where or not he was born in the United States, are now being directed at Senator Kamala Harris purely because she is not white.
President Trump himself was a major proponent of the conspiracy theory, and now returns to the same narrative for another prominent Black candidate. She is a first generation immigrant, born of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, but just being non-white is enough to cause her to be the target of racist attacks in regards to her origin. Racist attacks from the right are nothing new, but that doesn’t make them less disgusting.
What I find to be more insidious, however, is the thinly veiled racism we see every day from people who claim to be progressives or leftists. There is a tendency among many on the left, especially white people, to try to turn any discussion of race or representation to economics, as though getting rid of income inequality will magically cure racism. Income inequality is obviously a huge issue, and worthy of its own discussion, but the idea of racism simply going away once people aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck is suspicious, to say the least.
To make things worse, many white people dismiss wanting our government to be racially and demographically similar to the diversity of America as a whole as “identity politics.” The term has an almost exclusively dismissive tone, as it implies that wanting a representation that includes people of diverse backgrounds isn’t a valid thing to hope for. It is far too easy as a white man to dismiss the idea that it is important; we’ve never had a period in American history when we did not dominate every elected office.
Despite accounting for about 51% of the United States population, women still only make up only 25% of the United States Senate and 23% of the House of Representatives. As of the beginning of the 116th Congress, only 55 members were Black, only slightly more than 10% of the legislature. White, non-hispanic people make up 61% of the population of the United States, but are currently 78% of Congress. This is a problem that needs to change; any white person who suggests otherwise is, quite simply, contributing to white supremacy.
Dismissing the importance of Kamala Harris’ candidacy to BIPOC is a problem, especially when it comes from white people who have never had to hope that people with their background could be in government. There has never been a woman President or Vice President, and only one President in the near 250 year history of the United States has been anything but a white man. To dismiss the excitement of potentially having a Black, Indian woman as Vice President is to dismiss BIPOC entirely, and that is extremely problematic.
You may have valid criticisms of any political candidate, based on their career, previous political choices, or otherwise, but to dismiss the importance of representation not only cheapens any other argument you may have, it cements the fact that systemic racism just isn’t that much of a problem for you. If a Black person tells you that it matters to them, and dismantling white privilege matters to you, don’t downplay how important it is to have politicians that truly represent the diversity of our country.