I am blessed to have lived long enough to see two black women run for president of the United States as candidates for the Democratic Party nomination. I find it hard to believe that 50 years have passed since Shirley Chisholm took her first oath of office as a congresswoman in 1969. Three years later, on January 25, 1972, she would announce to the world that she was running for president.
I remember well the look of pride on my mom’s face when we talked about Mrs. Chisholm’s announcement at the dinner table. My dad said tersely, “She doesn’t have a chance.” My mom, raised an eyebrow and said, “that doesn’t make one bit of difference, George. We must admire her courage, and give her support. Why should we only expect men to run? One day, a woman will be president, and who better than a black woman? My dad rolled his eyes, but that eyebrow, which still hadn’t gone down, shut him up.
Honoring ancestors is part of my spiritual tradition, and they do not have to be blood relatives. My political family tree is filled with black women—a list too long to post here—suffice it to say that Mrs. Chisholm sits in a place of honor, along with women like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, and Barbara Jordan.
I was elated when Senator Kamala Harris launched her campaign for president, hearkening back to Mrs. Chisholm’s historic run—even adopting the Chisholm colors:
Those of you who read me regularly know I’m always dismayed about how little of our history, and important figures in it, is taught to younger generations. I had my students, who had never heard of Chisholm read “Before Barack, Hillary, and Bernie, there was Shirley Chisholm.”
So here we are in 2019. We’ve watched Senator Kamala Harris, daughter of immigrants like Chisholm, launch a presidential bid. Those of us who were already following her closely, knew what she would face. Similar obstacles faced by Barack Obama, but doubled by virtue of her gender. Chisholm once said, “I have certainly met much more discrimination in terms of being a woman than being black, in the field of politics.” We have a name for that toxic combo now—misogynoir. “Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet”:
The term was coined in 2010 by gay black feminist American academic Moya Bailey, who defined it “to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at black women in American visual and popular culture”.
Since then black women – and some men – predominantly on social media, have taken ownership of the term, using it to describe prejudice experienced in a range of contexts.
“Misogynoir provides a racialised nuance that mainstream feminism wasn’t catching,” says black feminist commentator, Feminista Jones. “We are talking about misogyny, yes, but there is a specific misogyny that is aimed at black women and is uniquely detrimental to black women.”
Tripling the burden was a well-orchestrated social media campaign against Kamala that has been so vile, I cannot, and will not post any examples of it here. Curiously—even after Harris exiting the race, the trollbot campaigns continue—undiminished. Why?
It’s clear to me: Preemptive strikes against a future run. Because I believe she will run again. I look forward to it. Her campaign has inspired a new generation of young women who can see themselves in her. She is still young (from my 72-year-old perspective). She’s only 55.
I thought about blasting “the ugly” today. Frankly, the pompous punditry, the nasty comments, the bullshit deconstruction of campaign “errors,” the Johnnys- and Janes-come-lately who are now commiserating about her dropping out (who weren’t there when she was in) are unimportant in the cosmic scheme of things. I have no interest in hearing what second-fiddle positions people have decided she merits—like attorney general.
Kamala Harris be grown. She’ll chart her own course. In my book—this is what counts:
So today, I simply say, “Thank you, Senator Kamala Harris.” For steppin’ out there. For taking all the crap thrown at you, and giving back joy, and inspiration. Just like Shirley Chisholm inspired me.
When Chisholm advised “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” I listened. The same way countless young women are listening to Kamala today, tomorrow, and into the future. One day, they will see a black woman as president of the United States. It just won’t be in 2020.