Can a sista get a break? Kamala Harris is an easy scapegoat amid media’s broadside against her

OPINION: Sophia A. Nelson writes that bombshell CNN report alleging tensions between her office and Biden's team says a lot about how accomplished Black women are treated.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks to the National Congress of American Indians' 78th annual convention in Washington, D.C. Tuesday. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Following the bombshell CNN report of so-called dysfunction in Vice President Kamala Harris‘s office and within the Biden White House at large, a group of my sorority sisters (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) and I were lamenting about how little respect Harris, also a soror, receives from her own administration and national media.

As the first woman and first woman of color to be elected to the nation’s second highest office, you would expect that Vice President Harris would have been given a much higher-profile portfolio of issues to manage, as well as be used more strategically, considering the loyal and influential Black women voter base of the Democratic Party.

Instead, we rarely see the vice president aside from standing with or behind President Joe Biden, oftentimes in silence with her mask on, at press events or announcements. Sometimes she gets to introduce him. But not so much now.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks alongside Vice President Kamala Harris
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks alongside Vice President Kamala Harris during a press conference in the State Dining Room at the White House on November 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The Biden administration won the 2020 presidential election because of the tireless efforts of Black women like Stacey Abrams, the game-changing endorsement of long-serving U.S. House Whip, Rep. Jim Clyburn, in the South Carolina primary, and, of course, the historic choice of Harris as Biden’s running mate.

Despite this, the Biden White House has stubbornly refused to make voting rights a serious priority. Instead, they’ve put all of its weight behind a bipartisan infrastructure deal that is good for America, yes, but that is no good if Black Americans and other minority and vulnerable populations lose their most basic freedoms — to vote — due to Republican-led efforts to make it harder to gain access to ballot after they were defeated during last year’s election.

Harris just returned from a very successful trip abroad to Paris, France, and yet instead of being praised for her first trip on the world stage with America’s oldest ally, she returns to a hit piece by CNN describing “exasperation” and internal “chaos” in her office and with her relationship with the White House.

Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff arrive at the Elysee Palace for the inaugural dinner on the first day of the Paris Peace Forum on November 11, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

“Worn out by what they see as entrenched dysfunction and lack of focus, key West Wing aides have largely thrown up their hands at Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff,” he article alleges, “deciding there simply isn’t time to deal with them right now, especially at a moment when President Joe Biden faces quickly multiplying legislative and political concerns.”

Who is “They” and which “key West Wing aides”? Why all the cloak and dagger backstabbing and leaking? Why not go to Vice President Harris directly and try to help coach her or her young staff? After all, she and many on her team have never worked in the executive branch prior to her historic election. In fact, Harris has the best mentor in the world in Biden, a former vice president himself, who also served decades as a U.S. senator. With that in mind, Biden is to blame if his vice president is floundering or having a steep learning curve. 

Why is Harris getting the blame for the clear dysfunction of the Biden administration? Because she is the easy scapegoat. Aren’t we always?

Black women are as Zora Neale Hurston once said, “the mules of the world.” We do all the work and we plow, and we dig, and we support, and we help. And in return we get little to no thanks — just as Harris and Black women voters who put Biden in the White House are finding out. It was the same in Virginia, where the Democrats had a chance to nominate one of two dynamic Black women for their nominee for governor, but instead they went with a 60-year-old White, middle-aged millionaire in Terry McAuliffe, who had already been governor of Virginia just five years prior.

Black women are always the spectators in the arena, versus being allowed the space be one of the victors in the arena.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Terry McAuliffe
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris campaigns with Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe during a campaign event featuring singer Pharrell Williams October 29, 2021 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Not to mention, Black Americans are tired. Only 86% of Black women in Virginia voted for McAuliffe as opposed to 92% for President Joe Biden. They didn’t vote for Republican governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, they just didn’t come out to vote in the numbers they did in 2020. It is just more evidence that the critical base of Black voters in the Democratic coalition are fatigued, as White women voters in Virginia jumped ship from Biden in 2020 to Youngkin in 2021. 

Contrast Harris’s treatment by the press corps and the White House with that of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is the darling of the press corps and even has a special on Prime Video about his meteoric rise in the Democratic Party thanks to his primary bid for president. Buttigieg and his husband received glowing reports on the birth of their twins, and when Buttigieg came under fire for taking “paternity leave,” the internet and the administration jumped to his defense.

Pete Buttigieg
(Photo by Stefani Reynolds – Pool/Getty Images)

I see very little of that for the attack after attack made on Kamala Harris.

It’s always a double standard for Black women — and it’s exhausting. You make a misstep, or misspeak, or appear to stumble as all humans do, and you get attacked, vilified, dehumanized and almost always those coming for you are White women, backed up by White men. And it sickens me to say this.

In 2021, Black women have made so much progress, yet no Black woman has ever sat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Not to mention, no Black woman presently serves in the United States Senate — all while the Black woman who serves as the United States’s vice president is constantly being attacked, marginalized and called “dysfunctional” or worse. These are gross, ugly, unkind stereotypes that have been deployed against Black women for centuries. 

It seems the harshest attacks and unkindness are always leveled at us, when all around us White men who are mediocre at best and many times incompetent, fail up. And diversity is run almost always by White women who have made the greatest gains across the board since the 1970s thanks to affirmative action. The numbers do not lie.

That is why Biden choosing Harris mattered so much for America and the millions of Black women and girls who looked to her historic stature with pride. We need her to be more than a symbol. We need her to be an active, equal partner in this administration. In ways that we can touch, see and feel.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

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