Full disclosure: I was not the biggest fan of Senator Kamala Harris’s run for president.
But while mentioning this, I must say that I’m surprised she decided to abruptly suspend her presidential campaign this week.
“I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life,” Harris wrote in a Medium post. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”
While some will try to scapegoat several campaign errors on her part, it’s hard to ignore the glaring double standards she faced—Harris was the only Black woman running in a race that had multiple billionaire candidates.
The stakes were stacked against Harris from the jump, before she even presented her platform.
She was a Black woman who didn’t come from deep pockets or have a ton of campaign cash on hand.
Despite this, Harris was often in the top tier of Democratic candidates who qualified for debates, often outpacing other candidates of color in the polls -- such as Senator Cory Booker, former Obama cabinet member Julián Castro, and businessman Andrew Yang.
Her dropping out of the race has made the upcoming Democratic presidential debate an all-white event, as no other candidates of color currently qualify to be on stage.
Castro, who did not qualify for both the November and December debates, came to Harris’s defense in the press, blaming the media for holding candidates of color to “a different standard.”
“To me, they held her to a different standard, a double standard, to other campaigns. And I don’t know if it impacted her decision to withdraw from the race or not, but I’m sure it didn’t help,” Castro told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. “This was a narrative from very early on. … From the earliest critique that she has no Black support, the [Congressional Black Caucus] is going other directions. It’s just holding people to different standards.”
And while some of Castro’s concerns are plausible, I think it would be more fair to argue why several of the white candidates running haven’t been scrutinized at the same level and frequency as Harris.
For example, as Mayor Pete Buttigieg begins to rise in the polls, only now are we beginning to see more nuanced critiques about his policies and previous stances. One could argue that despite low polling numbers, there hasn’t been enough conversation on the electability of billionaire Tom Steyer as he continues to qualify for presidential debates. One could also argue that early critiques of Harris’s political history dampened her chances in spite of her steady debate appearances.
I can admit that my disinterest in Harris’s presidential bid initially stemmed from the early press I read about her. The constant critique of her every move in the media disproportionately influenced my thoughts about her.
But some of the tone-deaf decisions she made during her campaign, such as quickly trying to cash in on her passionate “that little girl was me” discrimination speech at former Vice President Joe Biden, didn’t help.
I find myself becoming less fond of all the candidates as more stories reveal their contradictions. But it says something that Harris was one of the first I was ready to count out given what I read about her.
Could more time campaigning and evolving around the issues have made a difference for Harris? I’m not sure. But the fact that a Black woman running for office wasn’t extended such grace speaks volumes—especially for a Democratic party that relies heavily on Black women to safeguard their elections.
As the pool of top presidential candidates becomes increasingly more white as the race continues, voters should think more critically about the coverage surrounding those of color left running.
Now would also be a good time, for those who have the opportunity, to engage the white candidates on any controversial stances they’ve previously taken.
If I had been given the time to talk to Harris more on her past criminal reform measures, I would have done so in a heartbeat.
With Harris dropping out, we all need to rethink how we will prioritize diversity within this slate of Democratic candidates.
Based in Philadelphia, Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. Chat with him on Twitter @MrErnestOwens.
(Heidi Gutman/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)