Kamala Harris made history on Wednesday night, becoming the first nonwhite woman to officially accept the nomination for a major-party presidential ticket. And she didn’t shy away from discussing the persistent racism that dogs America.
“While this virus touches us all, we’ve got to be honest: It is not an equal-opportunity offender. Black, Latino, and indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately. And this is not a coincidence; it is the effect of structural racism,” Harris said about the coronavirus on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, calling out broad inequities in education, healthcare, and the economy.
“This virus, it has no eyes. And yet, it knows exactly how we see each other, and how we treat each other. And let’s be clear: There is no vaccine for racism,” said the California senator.
It was a striking moment for the first Black woman and first Indian American woman on a presidential ticket. And along with the rest of the Democratic convention program, it showed how fast the national conversation about race has grown a lot more direct as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and a pandemic that’s killing non-white Americans at a disproportionate rate.
Harris spent a significant amount of time on her own biography, talking about how her parents met through the civil rights movement and her “stroller’s eye view” of protests as a child. She further highlighted that she went to a historically black college.
Even if Harris and Democrats had decided to soft-pedal racial issues, they’re a major part of this campaign. The BLM protests have dominated the summer, and President Trump has already looked to hit Harris with the same kind of racist birther attacks he used to jump into politics. But it’s notable that Democrats aren’t shrinking from the fight or looking to discuss racial issues through the prism of economics.
Harris was far from the only speaker to take on structural racism in a way Democrats would have shied away from in the past. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking in a classroom in front of letter blocks spelling out BLM, noted how the coronavirus pandemic was “falling hardest on Black and Brown families.” Hillary Clinton asked people to “vote for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, because Black lives matter.”
President Obama gave extended remarks tying the Black Lives Matter movement to the original civil rights movement — a clearer exploration of race than he sometimes looked to emphasize during his own presidential runs, cognizant of the risk of alienating white voters as the nation’s first Black major-party presidential nominee.
And the normal people convention planners chose to highlight were mostly women, much younger and more diverse than those who spoke in the early nights of the convention. The Wednesday-night lineup included Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez, a diverse group of young climate activists; and a Hispanic family with an undocumented immigrant mother, one DREAMer daughter and another who as a U.S. citizen pledged to vote for them as she opposed Trump.
It was a notable focus, especially after the first two nights of the convention, where the slate of speakers skewed older, white, and more male and moderate. Democrats hadn’t exactly avoided the issue, with callouts and video montages honoring Black Lives Matter and other protest movements and women of color serving as emcees for each night’s event..
But except for Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday, where she acknowledged that some Americans wouldn’t listen to her because she was a Black woman, the convention’s program had largely focused on other messages up until Wednesday, hammering Trump for the economic calamity and human tragedy that his response to the coronavirus has caused. A bevy of national security experts and former Republicans had dominated the schedule, with Biden’s wife, Jill, closing Tuesday night’s program.
Not so on Wednesday night. And Democrats made clear whose side they were on in the fight for racial justice.
Cover: Kamala Harris becomes the first non-white woman to accept the nomination for vice president of a major political party in the United States. (Democratic National Committee)