Kamala Harris, an inspiration? No, because a person of colour isn’t always the progressive choice
Leena Sarah Farhat, Diversity Officer for the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Last week, the US chose its newest President and Vice President-elect. News of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory resonated around the world. Do you remember where you were? I will, I was in Lidl.
The first person I told? My housemate. We had been watching the election for days. The group chats started pinging back and forth, with feelings of relief and elation all around.
But one message, in particular, struck me and made me think: “She (Kamala Harris) must be your inspiration”.
I understand what was meant by the message. Kamala Harris will be the first woman, the first Black person, and first South Asian American person to be elected vice president of the United States.
Shouldn’t she inspire me, a ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ woman in Wales, and a Senedd candidate?
But to be honest, she doesn’t. Because Kamala Harris is not a hero, but a key part of the establishment she has been portrayed as fighting against.
What people who celebrate Harris’ victory fail to mention is her record of cruelty in California, where she was a prosecutor, district attorney, and state attorney general before representing the state in the US Senate.
She put trans women in men’s prisons and actively campaigned to keep non-violent offenders in jail during a time where there was a disproportionately high incarceration rate. She also defended California’s death penalty system in court.
As a district attorney of San Francisco, Kamala Harris supported a policy that required law enforcement to turn over undocumented juvenile immigrants to ICE – the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – if they were arrested and suspected of committing a felony, regardless of whether they were actually convicted of a crime.
On the issue of legalizing marijuana, which has destroyed families and futures, she originally laughed in the face of the reporter. Conveniently, four years later, she came around to public opinion and changed her view.
She opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate shootings involving officers, outraging many of her fellow Democrats, and was consciously missing in action when it came to taking a stand on Proposition 47, a ballot initiative approved by voters, that reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanours.
And on international issues, she has said she would be prepared to intervene in Kashmir and wars in the Middle East, bloodshed that has marked generations.
The common theme? Harris’s actions victimized the most vulnerable, and she was “far from a Progressive Persecutor” as Professor Lara Bazelon put it.
However, the kneejerk reaction in Wales to her election is to do what everyone else has done: praise her as the underdog, when she is a part of the mechanism of oppression.
Somehow somewhere, she traded humane values for the chance to climb to a position of power and allowed America to weaponize her in the fight against the odious Trump.
But her actions are accommodated now because she is a “first”. The first person of colour as well as first woman to hold set to hold the office of Vice President. She is being used in order to add a veneer of progressivism to a deeply unprogressive political offering.
What scares me is that I could see the same thing happening here in Wales. There is a danger that ethnically diverse candidates with racist and discriminatory morals will be allowed to rise all while being protected by the white majority who think this is what modern progressive and inclusive politics looks like.
Meanwhile, you will be told that they are just ‘doing the right thing by defending a BAME candidate’.
It is tough to hear that discrimination is fine as long as it protects a BAME candidate. We need people of colour to be judged as any other candidate or public figure would be.
I will continue my fight for an open, tolerant and liberal Wales. One that knows right from wrong and is kind to its people.
I wish women of colour here in Wales had a progressive role model so as to be able to dream about the world they seek to build, but it is clear now that we have no choice but to become our own role models for the next generation.
This cycle of weaponizing race in Wales ends now, or we could elect our own regressive persecutor if we are not careful.
We need to celebrate that Trump and Pence lost rather than Biden and Harris won if we want to push for a politics that does not celebrate the lesser of two evils.