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She needs to smile more or less

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Vanity Fair set up the hurdles for Kamala Harris’ still-hypothetical bid for the presidency. It is as bad as one would expect.

The fact that she is African-American, female, and relatively youthful can only benefit her during an election cycle certain to feature powerful generational currents—particularly as a foil to Donald Trump, an old, white race-baiter. Yet if Harris runs in 2020, she will need to harness the complicated currents of identity politics, while not being defined by them.

Harris has to overcome a centuries-old system that serves as a founding pillar for this country and the millennia-old system that is a founding pillar of much of the planet and make everyone forget she is an African-American woman if she is to have a shot at becoming our next president.

Don’t worry, it gets worse.

Harris’s brand, to this point in her political career, has been grounded largely in competence and prosecutorial rigor—her central identity has been her manifest talent.

One of the many myths that people who use the term identity politics cling to is that people who aren’t born as white men can overcome their unfortunate circumstances if they just try hard enough. If you’re very, very, very, very good at a job that is seen as the domain of white men, and you don’t make them uncomfortable by being too obviously not a white man, a blue fairy will appear and make you white-ish and male-like enough that Real People will accept you. Or to use the writer’s phrasing, your “manifest talent” will replace the less desirable identities that are an unfortunate disadvantage of your birth.

It’s 100% false, because this society is heavily reliant on sorting people into categories so everyone knows who it is safe to fuck with. When people look at Kamala Harris they see an African-American woman. Some may also see the senator from California, but they will never not see her.  The myth also ignores the extra work people who aren’t white men have to do to get ahead in this country. But the idea persists because air-headed bigots like to believe that people can bootstrap their way out of bigotry and bias.

So the First hurdle: Harris can’t be too blackity black or womany woman because what some of us call existing, other people have decided is identity politics and therefore bad.

Second hurdle: She has to appeal to black women.

Harris is poised to tap into some powerful Democratic demographic truths. Black women have been the party’s most reliable voters; women of all colors came out in record numbers to support Democrats in the midterms. Harris is the daughter of an Indian immigrant mother and a Jamaican immigrant father, and South Carolina, Texas, and California, all with substantial non-white populations, hold primaries early in the 2020 season.

Identity politics – bad! Demographic truths – good! What’s the difference? Who knows?

How can Harris avoid being too obvious about the fact that she’s a black woman and appeal to the Democratic base black women of at the same time? Don’t expect the writer to answer that question. And don’t expect him to explain why Harris has to be coy about who she is when other presidential candidates aren’t expected to be so restrained. He’s busy setting up the third hurdle: She has to show her softer side.

But here, again, there are stylistic conundrums, based on the kinds of sexist double standards that bedeviled Clinton.

Ye divven’t say hinny?

“Have you seen her speak?” a (male) Democratic strategist says of Harris. “It feels very Hillary-like.”

Buffy Wicks has a rare perspective on political sexism: she was a senior Obama campaign operative, and then, in November, won a seat in the California State Assembly. “Voters want to see a little bit of vulnerability, and women candidates need to thread the needle on this,” Wicks says. “Kamala is going to have to figure out how she shows that softer side. It’s more difficult for women candidates, and as a former district attorney, it’s not in her normal playbook.”

So she needs to be vulnerable, but not vulnerable like a woman.

Still, Harris’s team is wary of Beto O’Rourke’s possible entry into the field—because O’Rourke could cut into Harris’s appeal to white progressives, and because he has a flair for the emotional that could contrast with Harris’s coolness.

Evidence that Harris’ team exists and is wary of O’Rourke is supported by nothing. Also missing, awareness of the sexist and racist double-standards that allow white men to be emotional in public and calls the cops on black women who do things like sit down when they’re tired.

Fortunately, the writer got tired of making things up and ended soon after with this:

When it comes to being black and female, though, Harris is the only Dem presidential aspirant who doesn’t need any validators.

Leaving aside the fact that she isn’t yet an aspirant, what the entire fuck are those words trying to do? It would be a very strange sentence if the article hadn’t begun with concern trollery about identity politics. To end with the pronouncement that when comes to being a black woman, a black woman doesn’t need to have the fact that she’s a black woman validated suggests that the article was written by a committee of people who were test-driving different drugs. Or perhaps it’s just that any old garbage will do when the subject is women who are running for president.

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