As her 2020 presidential bid switches up a gear, Democratic senator Kamala Harris has called for a conversation around how race and gender are impacting her electability.
In an interview on Axios on HBO, the Californian senator says the time has come for a more open dialogue about the effect that her race and colour has on her election chances.
“Essentially, is America ready for a woman and a woman of colour to the president of the United States?” she says.
Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, says the conversation is important to have when she’s out meeting the electorate and canvassing at rallies and town hall forums across America.
“There is a lack of ability or a difficulty in imagining that someone who we have never seen can do a job that has been done, you know, 45 times by someone who is not that person,” the senator says.
Harris says Barack Obama had the same conversation when he ran to become America’s first black president in 2008. The senator, then a district attorney for San Francisco, was an early supporter of Obama’s campaign.
In the profile with Axios on HBO, Harris recalls trying to convince an elderly African American woman to back Obama while out on the trail for him ahead of a caucus in Iowa.
“She looks at me without any expression and she says, ‘they’re not going to let him win,’” Harris recounts. “And I looked at her, all in her 85 years, all that she has witnessed and experienced, in terms of injustice, indignity… She wasn’t about, at this point in her life, to expose herself to yet another disappointment.”
Harris says this story demonstrates that “I’m aware of the challenges but I know who the people are. And I know that we have an ability to see what can be.”
Racial justice and women’s rights are two areas that Harris has put at the forefront of her 2020 campaign. A standout performance in the first Democratic debate back in June saw her challenge front-runner Joe Biden over his opposition to federally mandated busing in the 1970s, as she recalled her own experience of racial segregation.
“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris told Biden.
“And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Meanwhile, in the latest Democratic showdown earlier this month, the senator questioned why, in their sixth debate, her fellow candidates had barely mentioned the crackdown on abortion rights that is taking place across the States right now.
“It’s outrageous,” Harris said. “There are states that have passed laws that will virtually prevent women from having access to reproductive health care.”
Harris’ six-point bump in the Democratic polls early on in her summer campaign earnt her a second-place ranking next to race favourite Biden. She’s currently polling at fifth place behind Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.