Kamala D. Harris and the Powerful Black Woman’s Dilemma

So, the candidates for the 2020 presidential election are out, and the mudslinging and excessively intrusive background investigating has begun with a vengeance. What struck me this week? The narrative on Kamala D. Harris as a gold digger because she dated a married man – get this – 20 years ago.

Now, for the record, I don’t know much about Harris. I don’t know if she’ll get my vote. It’s too early in the game to make that decision. I don’t bill myself as being terribly political or especially knowledgeable. I’m more in the do what’s fair and right for the population as a whole, and treat people with dignity and respect camp.

I’m also not an advocate for dating married men, estranged from their wives or not. However, I do know that women often make mistakes when it comes to love. This is not an excuse. Nor should we forget that men are not exempt from love-related foolishness. But one party should not forever bear the brunt of ill-tinged scrutiny just because she is female.

When Harris started dating former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown she was 29; he was in his 60’s. A younger woman-older man trope is quite common and not terribly worthy of commentary. It’s also not that interesting because most people don’t get any sense about love – hell, about life – until their 40s – I’m guessing Harris fell for Brown’s charm – he was notorious after all – and that was that.

What is interesting is how a woman’s love decisions never really die. So, my advice to young women out there: Be careful who you’re associated with. Whether they be friends or lovers, that association – especially if you’re a woman of color – could well mean the difference between a smooth(er) path to glory or a bumpy ride to nowhere.

Why?

America – the world – is stupidly obsessed with black female sexuality. It’s the proverbial three-winged fly, ever deserving of an obscene amount of completely unnecessary attention.

Omitting the fact that all women are in fact built with the same bits and pieces – and all cats really do look alike in the dark – a black woman’s curves, lush or slender, are as political as her hair. Our natural state is both perennially reviled and perennially sought after. The generous asses that once landed us in zoos are now the bread and butter/go to request for well-heeled plastic surgeons everywhere.

Note, I’m not saying that Harris had plastic surgery. I’m saying that her natural state will cause the public and the opposition to go nuts and treat her poorly.

Brown is old. He’s in his 80s, and he sees his one-time protégé/date potentially advancing to the hallowed air that is the White House. Because he wasn’t of strong moral compass to begin with, that he’s hurting her candidacy with commentary has either completely escaped him, or it’s not as important as bragging so that people know, yeah, she was with me. Although I will acknowledge that his recent op-ed wasn’t callously worded:

“Yes, I may have influenced her career by appointing her to two state commissions when I was Assembly speaker.

And I certainly helped with her first race for district attorney in San Francisco. I have also helped the careers of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a host of other politicians.”

Hell, put that way the relationship sounds like advanced level networking, the up close and personal version of having a cigar with your cronies after work. And isn’t politics all about relationships anyway? As far as I’m concerned, any commissions or appointments Harris may have received while with Brown was a much-deserved reward for time served.

People need to grow up. The idea that mutual back scratching equates to gold-digging is a myth perpetrated by jealous women who weren’t savvy enough to make appropriate use of their time, and bitchy men who were dumped, or who want to use a woman’s perfectly natural sexuality to hold her down. A man should help the woman he’s with, and vice versa, particularly if she is skilled enough to make the best use of his aid.

From what I can tell, Harris wasn’t a puppet back in the day. She wasn’t a bum looking for short cuts to avoid work so she could live off the fat of the land. She was a single woman living and working in California. And when it comes to the aftermath of her relationship with Brown, she was kind of a G when it came to making it clear that old tale was a nonstarter. When she was running for office in 2003, she said:

“I refuse,” she says vehemently, “to design my campaign around criticizing Willie Brown for the sake of appearing to be independent when I have no doubt that I am independent of him — and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me.

“His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing.”

It’s like Monica Hesse wrote a few days ago in the Washington Post: If “a talented woman dates a powerful man…from then on, whether the relationship lasted two decades or two months, her success will be traced back to that man. As if her own hard work were less important than his cameo appearance in her life — as if she were actually the cameo in her own story.”

The lesson here is this: Ladies, love is a battlefield. Or, it can be. Know that if you attach yourself to the wrong man he will be forgiven for more, and far more easily, than you will for much less, or, for the very same thing. Currently, that’s the game. I didn’t make the rules, but I’m a big proponent of playing to win.

Never lose sight of your image. Fair or not, as a woman you will be judged harshly, and that judgement will be doubly harsh if you are a woman of color. Harris is a U.S. Senator, a seasoned politician. But her suitability to be President of the United States will be unfairly tainted by a love choice she made decades ago? It’s text book double standard crap.

If we’re going to dig into Harris – as we should all those who aspire to the highest office in the land – is it too much to ask to pick something real to trip over? Something real like an issue, a policy, a belief, not a failed relationship from a lifetime ago.

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