My social media feed was ablaze recently with outrage regarding demeaning and vile imagery of Sen. Kamala Harris. The lowest denominator of humanity was selling shirts online with a profanity-laced slogan to represent the Democratic ticket in the upcoming presidential election.
It was a burning reminder that the denigration and sexualization of Black women in this country is a plague that has been unapologetically allowed and tolerated since people of the African diaspora were brought here enslaved in 1619.
Many years ago, this reality landed squarely at my feet when my maternal grandmother was rushed to the hospital after falling into a diabetic coma. Her hospital room was filled with broken hearts desperate for promising news. What we received as Nana lay narrowly clinging to life was a callous medical professional who referred to her as “this patient.” The doctor was a White man who did not know my grandmother’s name and had no interest in learning it.
We asked him politely to never refer to her as “this patient” again, he arrogantly responded, “The name of this patient is not on my chart.”
My story is not an anomaly. This is a daily reality for poor Black women as Covid-19 continues to show the disparities in the treatment that Black patients receive versus that of their White counterparts. Nana succumbed to complications from diabetes at Lincoln Hospital, which is minutes away from Yankee Stadium, the home of a billion-dollar baseball franchise. Yet, her community is riddled with poverty. New York City’s Bronx borough has the state’s highest diabetes rate and its maternal mortality rate substantially exceeds that of the city and country.
Black women like my grandmother have rallied around perceived political allies for decades. Now, with former Vice President Joe Biden choosing Sen. Harris as his running mate, a Black woman could hold the second highest office in the political hierarchy of this nation; but the hope that should follow that statement is fool’s gold.
Perhaps if Obama’s presidency didn’t show us that titles won’t put a dent in systemic racism, I’d be excited. Perhaps if the earning chasm between Black women and every other human being in America wasn’t abysmal, I’d have a celebratory toast. Perhaps if the sexual violence, exploitation, and genocide of Black women hadn’t been normalized and accepted for over 400 years, I’d post a cute meme like #blackgirlsinpower on social media. Perhaps if we were not still waiting for Breonna Taylor’s murderers to be held accountable, I’d believe a change was imminent.
I was a bright-eyed freshman at Howard University just minutes from where Anita Hill testified (and where Sen. Harris is an alum) against Clarence Thomas when my eyes opened to the reality that as a Black woman, I would always have to prove my worth. My girl squad huddled up, listening to every word, appalled at the gaslighting, watched the precision in which White male dominance made Ms. Hill look like an inconvenient insect that needed to be crushed. The imprint of how she was dismissed, minimized, and maligned was forever etched in our psyche.
Biden was the chair of that Senate Judiciary Committee and caved into the political imprudence of an inconvenient truth, refusing to allow testimony that would have supported Ms. Hill. He has yet to issue a formal apology.
Maybe picking Harris is his apology, or maybe it’s what he must do to have a legitimate chance at the presidency. There’s no road to the White House for the Democratic nominee without Black women.
Biden has his flaws, and whatever his political motives may be, I applaud him for picking Harris. He’s a political veteran, who knew how angry his choice would make many in this country. Harris will make an excellent vice president; her reproductive rights legislation offers me hope that she’ll advocate for her multi-dimensional, dark hued sisters.
I trust Harris understands that she’s living proof that the prayers of her ancestral grandmothers are more powerful than a racial and political structure built to disenfranchise, not empower. Her lineage gives her license to boldly, unapologetically speak truth to power and regally take her place in history.
The collective sisterhood must lift her up when she is maligned and denigrated, because we know a prestigious title won’t stop the horrors promulgated upon women who look like her—us.
The glaring disparities that Black women and their children face in this country need to be acknowledged and tackled as a public health crisis. Having an intelligent, qualified, Black woman working in tandem with Biden is a step in the right direction. The alternative of allowing the current resident of the White House four more years to spew ignorance, xenophobia, and racist policies is frightening.
Until the lives of Black women like my grandmother, whose generational pain can never be quantified, are given the respect of having their name acknowledged on their deathbed and treated with dignity in life and in death, Harris will be nothing more than the exception to a rule plagued with hypocrisy, misogyny, hate, and brutality.
Biden’s choice is not an absolution, it is the blooming of seeds planted by our ancestors. I just hope it ends up being one hell of a harvest.