I refused to watch any post-debate coverage.

History was yet again created when Senator Kamala Harris debated Vice President Mike Pence. I mistakenly watched some pre-debate predictions where one person said that “Senator Harris needed to act more empathetic if she was going to win.” Annoyed, frustrated, and saddened after hearing that comment, I video chatted with one of my dear friends to watch the debate and lift my spirits. We enjoyed watching Senator Harris criticize the current administration and speaking directly to the people.

Women, particularly women of color, never get the luxury of being themselves, especially when in the public eye. If Senator Harris showed empathy, then she would be called weak or faking that emotion. If she didn’t hold back her punches, then she’s the angry Black woman. Every word she said, every facial expression she made, and every gesture she made was scrutinized more than Vice President Pence.

There were moments where Senator Harris could not interrupt Vice President Pence and moments where she couldn’t stop him from doing it to her. Although she was quick to shut down some of the man-rupting, I am sure many found it rude. (I bet her debate preparations were much different than Vice President Joe Biden’s prep.) Throughout the entire debate, it was clear that Senator Harris was forced to move from mold to mold. She had to be tough, then sweet. She had to be aggressive, but not too much. She had to be smart, but again not too much. Ultimately, she had to play the part of a likable woman. However, there were moments when she broke away from that trope and spoke passionately to the American people.

Senator Kamala Harris (image from abcnews.go.com)

I feel connected to Senator Harris in many ways. She is of South Asian descent, she’s a “radical leftist”, and an attorney. Not only do we share many good qualities but also harsh criticisms. As the only woman of color public defender in my area (that I know of), I am judged very harshly. In fact, my passionate and zealous arguing is seen as rude and hostile.  Although I have never raised my voice, yelled, screamed, or even cried in court, I am subject to lectures on keeping my emotions in control. I have to quietly accept microaggressions and pray silently that people will educate themselves. I am not allowed to waste any emotional strength arguing what is prejudicial, racial, sexist, or any other form of discrimination. Sadly, I cannot make people see the errors of their ways without being assaulted by the “devil’s advocate.” I simply cannot catch a break. (Women are forced to learn how to channel their emotions into productive energy. A skill, quite frankly, men have yet to master.)

It’s funny that women of color’s mere existence triggers people. The media, the public, and some our alleged allies simply cannot handle us in position of powers. It’s like, “how dare we even try to lead. Let the white man save you instead.” The minute we start to take our lives into our hands, we face criticism.

However, these harsh criticisms mainly given by white men in power are not here to make me act within a stereotype. Or, provoke me to break stereotypes. Rather, these criticisms exist to control me; to remind me that I am not worthy of respect unless it’s on their terms. Simply put, I have no autonomy. I must be the one who carefully and mindfully navigates as to not hurt the status quo of discriminatory behavior. There will be immense pressure to change Senator Harris’s personality to make the white man feel comfortable and in control. Senator Harris faces the same criticisms I do except in a more intensified way because she’s a leader.

So, thank you, Senator Harris, for dealing with that; for willing to go through all of that just so you can create some change while you’re in office. Thank you for being the intersectional leader that will be debated for years to come. Thank you for taking bullets for us women of color trying to mindfully navigate in the white man’s world.  

That’s all for now. Stay tuned.

Published by Nikita Srivastava

a passionate feminist and social justice warrior who occasionally calls herself a goddess. She received her JD in 2019 and became licensed to practice law in 2020.

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