Why White Women Should Stop Co-Opting Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris did THAT. She, a black and South Asian woman, sat on that stage for 90 minutes and reminded the nation, especially Mike Pence, that she deserves to be in the global political arena and to be the Vice President of the United States.

Kamala Harris sat through interruptions, mansplaining, and a moderator who failed (and didn’t try very hard) to keep Mike Pence in line. And as the debate continued, tweets like this skyrocketed in likes and retweets:

Tweet about Kamala Harris
Tweet about Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris reaction gifs
Kamala Harris reaction gifs

I am proud to see Kamala Harris representing the Democratic party. I am grateful that in 2020, with Donald Trump in the White House, a poorly-handled health crisis, and what will likely become a strongly conservative Supreme Court for the next several decades, Kamala Harris is fighting against it all.

But seeing white women across the country co-opting a historic moment for black women, for Indian women, for dark-skinned women, is not only unacceptable and ignorant, but unfortunately not surprising.

I am a white woman. I am half-Jewish, half-Asian, and very much white-passing. I experience discrimination. All women experience discrimination to a certain extent. Hillary Clinton’s political career, for example, was absolutely subject to sexism that Donald Trump and her white male contemporaries were not. But for white women to co-opt this moment, to say “every woman” understands Kamala’s experience, to make this a gender moment and not a gender and race moment, completely undercuts who this moment is really for and is the pinnacle of white feminism. A woman of color’s experience is not the same as a white woman’s experience. And for white women to not acknowledge this when a powerful woman of color wins a debate against a white man, is ignorant at best.

I am a half-Asian woman. So is Kamala Harris. But I’m not going to sit here and act like her success is a moment for me. There is a massive difference between being black and Indian and being white and Japanese. I benefit from whiteness. Kamala Harris does not. Does that mean I’ve never been interrupted or mansplained to? No, of course I have. But I’m not going to pretend that my experience is the same as a black woman, and to compare myself to her is simply unproductive and an erasure of an issue that too often is swept under the rug.

When it comes to discrimination and systemic oppression, liberal white women see themselves in women of color. We see our experiences represented by women like Kamala Harris. But we never see ourselves in white men. We are hesitant to acknowledge our whiteness, our privilege, or what we have done as white women to contribute to systemic racism that continues to oppress black and brown women. And the current co-opting of a historic moment for dark-skinned women exemplifies exactly that.

To act as if Kamala Harris’s race did not affect her experience at the debate, and to make this historic moment solely about gender, continues to prove how reluctant we are to look in the damn mirror and acknowledge that we are white, and that we benefit from the exact systems that work against Kamala Harris and other women of color.

Perhaps the reason that white women, particularly upper and middle class white women, feel so strongly connected to Kamala is because we will be largely unaffected by the things she said in the debate. Why won’t she and Joe ban fracking? Why didn’t she give us an answer on packing the court? Why did she waver on the Green New Deal? I’ve seen much fewer discourse on what she actually said than how she said it. White women are going to be fine. We don’t have to think about what Kamala said because it doesn’t actually affect us. White people don’t register that climate change and the environment are also racial justice issues. The people who are most affected by an oppressive healthcare industry and reproductive health access (two issues the Supreme Court will soon consider) are systemically marginalized communities. White women do not fall into those categories. But we pick up on the one aspect of Kamala’s debate performance that we can semi-relate to, and insert ourselves into the conversation.

White women are not Kamala Harris. White women are Susan Page. Getting interrupted by white men, holding black women to a stricter standard than those interrupting white men, and failing to use the privilege we have to create an environment of equality.

Philosophy grad, lawyer in training. I write about society, politics, and the human experience, mostly based on reflections of my own humble life.

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