What happened to Kamala Harris? The once-celebrated presidential candidate recently called it quits, and mainstream pundits struggled to explain why.
Some argued Harris never articulated a clear and consistent message distinguishing her from competitors. Others believed she irreparably damaged herself by supporting “Medicare for All” (albeit offering several confusing iterations), which many see as a political non-starter. Some said Harris’ campaign was simply poorly run.
Others opined she was the victim of a racially stacked primary deck. Even though Barack Obama surprisingly won Iowa in 2008, Harris struggled to gain support in the small, mostly white state whose African American population is a whopping 3.8%.
All that may be true, but it misses the most important part of the story.
It was one thing for Harris to receive little to no support from whites in Iowa, but how could the fact that blacks in South Carolina (and beyond) weren’t excited about her either be explained?
Looking past her racial bona fides
Indeed, Harris was quick to showcase her racial bona fides early in her candidacy. She is a graduate of Howard University, a legendary historically black school that has yielded American icons from Thurgood Marshall to Toni Morrison to Chadwick Bozeman. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a blue blood black sorority with a socio-political network supposedly so extensive that CNN’s Maeve Reston called it Harris’ “secret weapon.”
Harris even announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019. That and her blindside of Joe Biden on his busing record made it clear she was attempting to lure African American votes by wrapping herself in the cloak of black struggle.
It didn’t sell.
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While some members of the self-involved black bourgeoisie nauseatingly praised her, younger blacks and black progressives were taking deeper, dispassionate dives into Harris’ real-world record. They didn’t like what they found.
To the chagrin of her supporters, close examinations of the woman who took pride in the title of California’s “top cop” by writers like Lara Bazelon, C.J. Ciaramella, Sarah Lustbader, Vaidya Gullapalli, Joe Garafoli and others revealed that Harris had been nothing close to the civil rights warrior she claimed to be. In actuality, she had spent much of her professional life prosecuting and persecuting poor people and minorities.
Bazelon wrote that Harris “opposed or stayed silent” on multiple aspects of criminal justice reform. She “laughed” when a reporter asked her about decriminalizing marijuana before reversing course years later as public opinion changed. She opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate police shootings. She also opposed statewide police officer body-camera regulations.
Her record on police reform was so troubling for many that Garafoli cited former Harris supporter and California activist Phelicia Jones lamenting, “How many more people need to die before she steps in?”
Harris didn’t stop there. She even fought for a law that would prosecute parents of “habitually truant” elementary schoolers, “despite concerns that it would disproportionately affect low-income people of color.”
'Progressive prosecutor' myth
When Harris released her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Ciaramella reviewed it and wrote, “Kamala Harris’ new book tries to massage her record as a prosecutor, but the facts aren’t pretty.”
In the book, Harris claims, “America has a deep and dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice.” She goes on, “I know this history well — of innocent men framed, of charges brought against people without sufficient evidence, of prosecutors hiding information that would exonerate defendants, of the disproportionate application of the law.”
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Bazelon retorts with the damning condemnation, “All too often, she (Harris) was on the wrong side of that history.” In reality, she “fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”
To top it all off, Harris never wavered in her support of the death penalty.
To be sure, there are still some blacks anxious to celebrate the “first black” this and the “only black” that. For that matter, they will genuflect for any blacks in high places. Importantly, others aren’t so easily bamboozled anymore by black people who will say and do anything to get ahead, only claim concern for black folk when it’s convenient, and then abandon them when they get what they want.
Shockingly, some black people are even beginning to reevaluate Barack Obama, who was once seen as almost divine and untouchable. One black voter from Atlanta said of Obama types to reporter Astead Herndon, “I’m not falling for that again.” Hmm.
In the end, Kamala Harris left the race largely because she couldn’t secure the critical black support any black presidential candidate must have. Contrary to arguments centering on pragmatism, most black folk didn’t reject her because they thought she couldn’t win. They didn’t support her because they didn’t trust her. And they were wise not to.
Other milquetoast black candidates like Deval Patrick should take Harris’ fall as a lesson. Herndon reported in the New York Times that Patrick was recently forced to cancel a speaking event at my alma mater, Morehouse College... after only two people showed up. It’s a new day!
Ricky L. Jones is chair of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. His next book, co-authored with Marc Murphy, is titled, “Kaepernick, Confederates and Con-Artists.” His column appears bi-weekly in the Courier Journal, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @DrRickyLJones.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Democratic race: Kamala Harris campaign couldn't attract black voters