President Barack Obama reminded us last week that even progressive leaders can be sexist when he remarked that California Attorney General Kamala Harris was “the best looking attorney general in the country,” as though that had any bearing on how well she does her job. The media have been having a field day with the comment ever since, as have women’s groups determined to set the record straight. A legal trailblazer, Harris is a remarkable woman, and her looks ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.
This isn’t the first time people have made comments about her appearance; it’s been suggested that her rise to power began with an affair, for example, implying that she wasn’t good enough on her own to build a career. Notable that a black woman working her way through traditionally white channels of power should be accused of sleeping her way to the top and using her looks to her advantage; a reminder of the Jezebel stereotype and outdated beliefs about the sexuality of black women.
1. Kamala Harris is one fearless woman
She’s taken on some of the biggest names and causes in the U.S., including major corporations, big banks, human traffickers and marriage equality opponents. Working in California, a traditionally highly liberal state, has certainly given her more of a platform when it comes to fighting for the little guy, but Harris is a firebrand and she’s made quite a big splash on the legal and political scene. It’s clear that she has no intention of stopping with the Attorney General position; there’s a reason some commentators suggest she could be the female Barack Obama.
2. Kamala Harris is already making history.
As the first female, African-American, Asian-American Attorney General for California, Harris is a reflection of a shifting political and cultural landscape; and she’s the first Asian Indian Attorney General in any U.S. state, to boot. While going over her ethnic background might sound like a laundry list of diversity credentials, it marks an important moment in U.S. history as lawmakers, attorneys general and other public servants are increasingly reflecting the actual diversity of the United States. Harris brings unique life experiences to her role as AG, and those will serve her well whether she ends up at the U.S. Attorney General’s office, on the Supreme Court bench, or in the Oval Office, all roles she could potentially step into.
3. Kamala Harris supports progressive social policies
A big part of her career, from prosecutor at the Alameda County District Attorney’s office to her current position, has involved the promotion of social policies to reduce crime, increase public safety and address specific social issues that contribute to crime and recidivism. For example, she heavily supports education, arguing that addressing chronic truancy to keep children in school rather than on the streets would help reduce the numbers of criminally active young adults. She’s also notably opposed the death penalty, most famously in a murder case involving a police officer.
Her “Back on Track” program aimed at nonviolent juvenile offenders is intended to help steer people away from a criminal path and into education and other opportunities. It’s part of a larger commitment to public safety based in public education and early intervention rather than tackling criminal justice issues through the courts.
4. Kamala Harris is passionate about issues that affect low-income, marginalized Americans
As Attorney General, she’s been particularly concerned with the housing crisis and exploitative, suspect practices by financial institutions. While these are hefty foes to take on, Harris’ bravery hasn’t wavered when it comes to obtaining justice for the people who lost out in the crisis, and she’s sending a clear message to financial institutions and regulators that it’s time to crack down on high profits at the expense of vulnerable people. That’s particularly good news in California, a state that was hit hard by the crisis.
5. At 48, Kamala Harris has a long career to look forward to
She’s just getting started socially and politically as she rises through the ranks of government and establishes her track record. That means we have a lot more to see and expect from Kamala Harris; and it’s probably only going to get better, because the more authority she has, the more ability she’ll have to promote the programs and causes she cares about. Expect to see Kamala Harris around, and not just in California; and remember, her face didn’t get her there, her hard work did.
Harris got an apology from the President for his inappropriate comment about her looks, but it speaks to a larger problem in politics, especially for women of color. Women are often informed that they’ve arrived where they have because they’ve used their bodies to get there, while the abuse of social and political connections by men goes unremarked. Seeing high profile women of color subjected to sexist comments sends a clear message to young women of color in particular: and that’s why a public apology was needed. Politics can be a racist, sexist path, but it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be.
Now that we’ve heard it, it’s time to focus on the great things Kamala Harris has done and will continue to do, rather than on that one time someone made a sexist comment about her.
Photo credit: aSILVA