As America reckons with racism, Kamala Harris puts her identity as the first Black VP front and center – USA TODAY
Shagara Bradshaw wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary last month when she dropped into a vaccination site in Jacksonville, Florida, for her second COVID-19 shot.
Bradshaw hadn’t heard that Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting the tented facility to encourage people to get vaccinated. But when she was pulled out of the registration line to meet Harris, Bradshaw knew how she wanted to introduce herself.
“Good afternoon, soror,” Bradshaw, 38, said to her delighted fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister and fellow graduate of a historically Black university.
As Navy troops wearing military fatigues prepared doses, Bradshaw and Harris chatted about being a role model by getting vaccinated and about Bradshaw’s job at a Jacksonville school where she is teacher of the year – an honor that was the highlight of her year until she met Harris.
“I felt like I was speaking to someone that understood me,” Bradshaw said. “She knows what it’s like, the struggles of African American women, what we have to go through.”
Harris, the first woman – and first woman of color – to hold the second-highest national office, has embraced that identity at a time when the country is facing a racial reckoning – and when race remains a deeply sensitive and politically volatile issue.
As Democrats applaud the spotlight that Harris and others in the administration have put on equity, Republicans accuse the administration of deepening the racial divide by ignoring gains in the fight against racism.
“Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country,” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, said in the GOP’s response to President Joe Biden’s joint address to Congress Wednesday.
Harris, the next morning, responded that she does not believe America is a racist country.
“But we also do have to speak truth about racism in this country, and its existence today,” Harris said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Harris’ willingness to dive right into the topic is evident in a USA TODAY review of her public schedule, which shows how much she has emphasized issues important to people of color, and to women, in her first 100 days.
Other than administering the oath of office to fellow Cabinet members or interacting with foreign leaders, most of the more than 40 other solo activities on her public schedule through late April have had at least some connection to her identity and those who share it.
Harris traveled to the majority minority cities of Oakland, California, to discuss “water equity”; New Haven, Connecticut, to talk about child poverty and education, and Greensboro, North Carolina, to talk about jobs. In Greensboro, she sat at the former Woolworth’s lunch counter where a peaceful sit-in became a defining moment in the civil rights movement.
While emphasizing the need to “speak truth” even if it “may make folks uncomfortable,” Harris has met with Black mayors, members of local Black Chambers of Commerce, leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, women’s leadership groups, female labor leaders and faith leaders from minority communities.
“The truth is,” she told the House Democratic Caucus in March, “inequity has become the norm.”
In an interview with USA TODAY in March, Harris said the coronavirus pandemic “has exposed the failures, the fractures, the fissures that have long existed in our society, and it has made them bigger and more obvious.”
Harris noted that longstanding inequities in health care have put Black people at higher risk of dying from the virus. She added that many frontline workers face inequities around pay, family leave and child care affordability.
“These are all issues that have disproportionately impacted Black women in the workforce,” she said.
Harris also has put a spotlight on the successes and contributions of women and people of color. In the Washington area, she visited a women-owned knitting store, where one of the yarn colors was named after her. And at a stop at a local Veterans Affairs hospital, she delivered Valentine’s Day treats to about two dozen workers of color.
At the National Institutes of Health, she lauded the work of Black women in science during and met Dr. Kizzy Corbett, who worked on the Moderna vaccine.