Why Do We Continue to Write Off Women? A Look into Kamala Harris' Exit

The 2020 Democratic presidential lineup has in many instances become a source of ridicule in regard to the extensive number of candidates who seemingly enter the race at all points of the campaign trail. There currently stand 15 candidates running for the democratic ticket. In total, there were 28, and unfortunately, as of December 3, 2019, the number of people who had dropped out from the race went from twelve to thirteen as Senator Kamala Harris of California suspended her campaign. This isn't to say that her decision to pull out of the race is somehow perceived as a failed attempt to flippantly run for president, as some may want to believe. Because although there are several, and I do mean several people running on a campaign of ego and pride, Kamala Harris was never one of them and her dropout is disappointing for woman of color and for candidates without the resources to buy in their position.

Harris has a history of cataloging her experiences with prison reform and is vocal about her time as a prosecutor before her move into politics. I think that may be what drew me to her early on. As a black woman, I hadn't seen myself represented by candidates, and no matter how much I idolized Stacey Abrams, I needed someone who was going to break into a larger sphere. Harris advocated for teachers across the nation, but especially in underserved areas, fought injustice in our prison systems, focused on aiding women stuck in sex trafficking rings, and raised even more awareness to Black mortality crises. Kamala Harris was in all intents and purposes what I imagined having an actual voice within the system would be like. However, I am left to still imagine as Harris confirmed in an email to her supports and sponsors, "My campaign for president simply doesn't have the financial resources we need to continue," Ms. Harris wrote. "But I want to be clear with you: I am still very much in this fight."

So, what does this leave us with when women, and specifically women of color, can only make it so far in a system designed to promote the wealthy? Well, to start, this means that critics and voters need to stop referring to women as unelectable. Women are not unelectable, and Kamala Harris is proof. As a female candidate born of Indian and Jamaican descent, Harris was posited as one of the many people of color running for office, among opponents like Andrew Yang, Corey Booker, and Julián Castro. But in reality, among the few people of color, there are four times as many white candidates, so why are those of color still considered history-making while at the same time unimportant or unqualified? Harris was not simply a minority ticket. Kamala Harris was one of the most experienced potentials. She attended Howard University where she studied political science and economics and went on to study law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, an education some may critique as not an Ivy—an archaic critique, really. Harris' experience demonstrates how close to her community her education led her, whereas I see the standard for Ivy schooling as potentially isolating. Her work spans from tackling child abuse and domestic violence to building cases against sex trafficking. In 2004 Harris won San Francisco's race to become the first woman and the first person of color to hold the office of district attorney. In 2016, she was elected senator.

I don't have the time and space to outline all of Kamala Harris' achievements, but the fact of the matter is, Kamala Harris is electable, she had been elected to several positions in her life and thrived in them. So the issue then becomes, if women truly as electable, why is there such an issue making space for them? Philosopher Kate Manne spoke with Vox's Ezra Klein and theorized, "Electability isn't a static social fact; it's a social fact we're constructing. [My] worry is electability is a smokescreen for this sadly common thing, which is not wanting to support a female candidate."

I do not believe Kamala Harris is undeserving of criticism, and I will be open with the fact that she was not my first choice, so there is this odd dance that myself and most of the mainstream media had to contend with: How do we critique women of color while also acknowledging their disadvantages within a system not designed to support them? The first step, I grappled with, was to recognize her contradictions and also praise her good work. While Harris had refused the deathpenalty for a man accused of killing an officer, she later defended California's state right to enact capital punishment. Harris was one of the co-sponsors for a bill outlawing the gay-panic defense (a way to protect people who committed violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community), but then attempted to block gender reassignment surgery just one year later. She both signed Bernie Sanders'"Medicare for All" bill and also proposed her own slightly more problematic solution. So in reality, Harris has a patchy history with wanting to appease several demographics, no matter how contradictory her actions appeared. And while I am critical of those moves, I am also understanding of the fact that we expect complete purity and perfection from our female candidates. While Harris had to contend with critics claiming she was "too PC" those were the same people demanding a spotless record from the senator. The double standards were and are still high and I relate heavily as a woman of color forced to negotiate my identity to a white standard.

As Kamala leaves the race, she does not leave behind an entirely male lineup as Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Marianne Williamson remain—all of whom are white women. But what Harris' exit signals is an all white stage for the next debate. Julián Castro and Corey Booker are currently struggling to meet the funding requirements to qualify for the December debate, but have not conceded to not attending as of yet. To be honest, it is incredibly disheartening to see Kamala Harris dropout, paralleling Bloomberg and Steyer who entered the race so recently with a billionaire status. I cannot fault these men for having the financial resources to enter at will and make it to checkpoints others struggle to see, but I think Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand's suspended campaigns point to a larger flaw in the system. Our presidential elections run on a "Default White Male" system too easily eager to write off women. When there are experienced and passionate candidates who lose their opportunity to have a voice and are subsequently succeeded by wealthy last minute additions, then our institution needs to acknowledge that we do not exist within a meritocracy.

Personally, I look forward to seeing what comes next for Kamala Harris, because as she stated, I genuinely believe her fight is not over. I am hopeful this experience has seasoned her in a way that will only prove fiercely strong in the future. And despite still remaining positively influenced by those still running, I'll watch along with a pang of disappointment and sorrow from the loss of her presence.