Why Kamala Harris’ Senate seat should go to a Black woman
OPINION: When Harris is sworn in as the 49th vice president of the United States, the lone voice of Black women in the United States Senate will be lost.
It started in the South Carolina Democratic Primary. It concluded on Election Day in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Philadelphia. Throughout the 2020 election, the one fact that is clear is that the foundation and soul of the modern Democratic Party has and is highly likely to continue to be Black women.
Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Black voters, especially Black women, have once again demonstrated the collective power we have to determine election outcomes.
While many pundits and experts spent the year debating what constituency grouping was the most important to winning the 2020 election, Black women understood deeply what we always knew. Our voice mattered and we would not yield that power of self-determination during the most important election of our lifetime.
When Joe Biden was finishing his process in selecting his vice-presidential running mate, it was Black women across the nation that stood together and insisted that our collective experiences be represented on the 2020 ticket. Fierce leaders joined together through Sisters Lead Sisters Vote and clearly stated in an April letter the importance of selecting a Black woman for the ticket.
This united sisterhood became further outspoken as certain parts of the Democratic Party openly attacked Senator Harris and challenged her selection as vice president with demeaning comments like she “can rub people the wrong way.”
Throughout all of this though, Black women stayed focused and committed to ensuring that our nation would stand up for equality and justice on Election Day. Leaders such as Stacey Abrams and our forever First Lady Michelle Obama led movements in key areas across the nation to ensure that Black women once again turned out and voted.
The results of this engagement and commitment to the Democratic Party are once again on display as over 90% of Black women voted to elect President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
As we approach January 2021 and the inauguration, Black women will rejoice in this history-making moment. At the same time, we will also face the reality that the lone voice of Black women in the United States Senate will be lost. Since 1870 there have only been ten Black members of the United States Senate. Within that, only two have been Black women and they both happened in the last 28 years.
When Senator Harris is sworn in as vice president, the Senate will revert to its historic exclusivity where white men disproportionately make up the membership of this body. We will be reminded that Senator Harris was only the second Black woman to serve in the United States Senate and that we are once again voiceless.
When this moment arrives in January 2021, the collective eyes of Black women in America will turn to California Governor Gavin Newsom. A progressive Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area, Governor Newsom will inherit the important responsibility of ensuring that Black women will not once again be erased from the United States Senate. The decision Governor Newsom makes will be felt across the nation and leave Black women with a clear understanding if he supports diversity and representation within the Democratic Party.
Fortunately for Governor Newsom, he has before him a historic Black woman member of Congress who has constantly demonstrated leadership and a commitment to addressing the issues that Black women care about across our nation. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, from Oakland, California, is one of the true progressive leaders in our nation. She constantly uses her position in Congress to engage and address concerns with education, healthcare, economic opportunity, voting rights, criminal justice reform, and other crucial issues.
Her presence and voice in the House of Representatives have often served to remind our nation of our true potential. From her sole vote against the 2002 Iraq Authorization for the Use of Military Force to working with former President George W. Bush to create and implement the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, her record demonstrates that she has the leadership and vision to ensure that Black women’s voices and experiences are represented in all discussions in the Senate.
Beyond her work in Congress, Congresswoman Lee also has a lifetime of experiences that are vital and often left out of deliberations on the floor of the United States Senate. Congresswoman Lee was a single mother who raised two Black sons. Her political activism is rooted in Shirley Chisholm’s historic campaign for president of the United States. Her experiences in life capture firsthand the experiences that Black women have and continue to face across our nation. Her experiences are our experiences. Her voice is our voice.
Black women our work is not done. As we prepare to celebrate this historic moment of Senator Kamala Harris becoming the vice president of the United States, we must also remember that we are losing the sole representation of Black women in the Senate.
We must once again step forward and use our collective voice to ensure that California Governor Newsom and the Democratic Party understand the important decision that will be made with this appointment. We must remind them and the nation that they will decide if Black women are once again relegated to sitting outside the Senate Chamber and watching our future be decided without our input.
We must rally together and ensure that the Democratic Party honors our place in our nation and protects our hard-fought-for place to have the voice of Black women in the United States Senate.
At 18, Haley Taylor Schlitz is a second-year law student at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is a 2020 African American Policy Forum Young Scholar and served as a Joe Biden Delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Texas.
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