Joe Biden finally made the call we’ve all been desperately waiting for. Former Attorney General and Senator Kamala Harris has formally been counted as his Vice President pick (deep sigh). The senator has long been a fan-favorite for many folks since she quit her own presidential bid. Yet, there are many pundits suggesting there is a significant mistrust in Harris’ leadership and fortitude.
Prior to his selection many commentators across the board argued Biden’s final vice-presidency commitment should be to a Black woman. In fact, according to Renee Graham in the July 28th Boston Globe, this contemporary moment calls for the direct leadership of a black woman. This argument is based on the larger idea black women have significant experience relating to both gendered and racialized bias in society. Therefore, their proverbial “seats” at the table are necessary for progressive executive leadership.
Yet, as a black woman who’s living outchea everyday I’m left wondering does it even matter if the Vice President candidacy has gone to Harris? While most of us can agree Biden’s call was a strong and necessary one this candidacy is meaningless if society doesn’t intentionally deal with the crisis of chronic distrust of black women. History has shown us numerous times that the experiences and expertise of black women/womxn is without fail largely distrusted in our larger society. And it’s not just history either. It’s the very real lived experiences of black women across our country that testifies to this chronic mistrust.
Public and personal mistrust in black women is a crisis that we need to reckon with. And yes, I meant to say crisis! Being a Black woman often feels like attending a masquerade ball for much of your life. It’s being quick footed, agile, and always prepared to hide a part of yourself depending on who’s in attendance. Whether we’re at work or the grocery store, we recognize we occupy spaces where there is a great deal of mistrust in our capabilities and integrity.
Harris isn’t alone in having her trustworthiness questioned in a world that often immediately gives credibility and trust to her counterparts. It’s a daily experience for most of us. If I were to open my own bag of personal traumas about the heaviness of the burden of constantly creating trust, this editorial would quickly become a book! There’s a long-standing relationship in our country of asking (sometimes pleading) for Black women to show up to the proverbial table and lead. Yet, once in leadership positions our voices are critiqued, our decisions are nullified and we are often considered incompetent.
Take Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s most recent lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as a good example of this incessant need to counteract black women’s leadership. According to NPR, last month Gov. Kemp sued Mayor Bottoms over her most recent face mask order. Bottoms’ mandate is very much in line with health officials and many other governing officials across our country. Yet, Gov. Kemp has decided to manifest this chronic mistrust in black women in a very real way. Kemp’s actions very much mirror a blatant disregard of black women that goes much farther than Bottoms or Harris.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2018, black women died 2½ times more often than white women due to maternity. Health systems and policymakers respond in similar ways to Black maternal death, creating solutions while Black researchers, doctors and mothers plead with them to “Trust Black Women.” These statistics serve as a reminder of the costs associated with the lack of trust in our voices.
Black women’s leadership is groundbreaking. Across our country we’ve seen mayors Muriel Bowser, London Breed; Sharon Broome become powerful change agents during both the Covid 19 crisis and police brutality. Yet, our society needs more than just our presence, we need their trust. As a black woman, I recognize how consequential the lack of trust in our authority and our decision-making can be. I have no doubts in Harris’s abilities to govern confidently. Yet, how can she move forward during this candidacy while having her credibility, expertise, and experiences constantly questioned? The salient question cannot be simply limited to are we ready to support black women leaders? It must include a thorough investigation about our readiness to fully and finally trust black women as well. Ashe.