Kamala Harris and the twin evils of ‘Jim Crow and Jane Crow’

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From the minute President Joe Biden selected her as his running mate, Kamala Harris has been the subject of intense scrutiny.

Harris is often the subject of fierce discussion and debate, and it hard to think of a vice president in recent memory who has been placed under such a political microscope. She can hardly sneeze without someone analyzing and dissecting her every move.

From a historical perspective, the role of the vice president has often been marked with a degree of paradox and a level of ambiguity. You are one heartbeat away from the presidency, yet you are often relegated to mostly obscure duties.

Frequently, presidents and vice presidents have been odd pairings often brought together in an effort to unify diverse fragments within the party. John Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson with the aim of assuaging the fears of southern Democrats who were weary of his Roman Catholicism and “possible allegiance” to the Vatican. Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush, the former head of CIA, in an attempt to win over more centrist Republicans leery of the far-right values of Reagan voters. And the thrice married, twice impeached, convicted felon and adulterer Donald Trump recruited Mike Pence for the purpose of addressing the apprehensions of devout white evangelicals over the businessman’s moral failings and deficiencies.

Over the past three years, the common questions asked in regard to Harris have been: “Where is the vice president?”, “What is she doing in her role?”, “How come she is not more visible?” To many, the vice president has been VP non grata, seemingly absent from taking on any official political duties.

The fact is that for the first few years of her tenure as vice president, Harris was a low-key operator, promoting the Biden agenda to historically black colleges and universities, pushing women’s issues, and attempting to appeal to young voters. In this regard, she was no different from most recent vice presidents, save for Dick Cheney. Yet, unlike her predecessors, she was routinely chastised for her lack of visibility.

Until recently, rightly or wrongly, the perception of Harris has been that of a person ill-suited for the role of the vice presidency, let alone president of the United States. Her political triumphs were not appropriately announced by the Biden administration. And admittedly, some awkward moments in interviews and the ongoing media coverage depicting her as an individual who struggles to form coherent sentences have certainly not done Harris any favors. Even now, there are some who feel Harris lacks the necessary political ingredients to be successful.

No honest person can dismiss the fact that being a woman of color has been a political handicap for her. As a woman of color – and a biracial one at that – Harris has to deal with the twin evils of “Jim Crow and Jane Crow.” The term was espoused by pioneering legal scholar Pauli Murray in 1970. The intersection of race and gender has undoubtedly contributed to much of the derision from certain segments.

Republican Party operatives are already crafting the narrative to their base of supporters that given Biden’s age, it is very likely he will have to step down and hand over power to his Black female vice president. This is an image that upsets the stomachs and emotions of a large number of conservative Republicans, and if we are being honest, a segment of neoliberal and faux Democrats as well. A Black woman being elected president before a white woman would likely be a tough pill for many to swallow.

Whether her political flaws are imagined or real, Kamala Harris is a formidable politican. She remains immensely popular among Black women, the Democratic Party’s most dedicated voting bloc. Her talks at HBCUs, visits to planned parent clinics, and passionate speeches on reproductive rights have garnered her admiration among a growing number of people, as well as earning her solid marks from pundits and other political observers.

Both Biden and Harris must make a persuasive argument to fellow Democrats and swing voters on why she remains the best choice to succeed him. It is something that both of them must do unequivocally and unambiguously. Otherwise, her opponents will not hesitate to move in and attempt to so do themselves.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.