Sat | Feb 27, 2021

Hope hangs on Harris for black justice in US

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2021 | 12:08 AMJonielle Daley/Staff Reporter
Joe Biden fist-bumps Vice-President Kamala Harris after she was sworn in during the inauguration at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Joe Biden fist-bumps Vice-President Kamala Harris after she was sworn in during the inauguration at the Capitol on Wednesday.

United States Vice-President Kamala Harris is expected to leverage her history of advocacy in pressing the White House on economic and social justice for blacks and other minorities, Jamaican academics have said.

Joseph Biden assumed the presidency on Wednesday at an inauguration ceremony muted by security concerns in the wake of a deadly January 6 United States Capitol riot and social-distancing concerns linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Retired University of the West Indies (UWI) professor of political thought, Rupert Lewis, believes that Harris’ record as US senator from 2017-2021 offered enough evidence of her philosophy as a progressive public servant.

The vice-president, who has Jamaican ancestry through her father, Stanford economics professor Donald Harris, also has a reputation of being a fierce prosecutor and district attorney in California.

“Now she will be with the executive branch and will be a stronger force, and I think Biden will allow her to lead based on the nature of the crisis and her skill set,” Lewis told The Gleaner.

ENORMOUS EXPECTATION

Referencing the Black Lives Matter movement sparked last summer by the police killing of African American George Floyd, Lewis said that Harris was acutely aware of the enormity of expectation as the first black and female vice-president of the United States. Raphael Warnock’s January 5 historic win as Georgia’s first black senator cannot be ignored, said Lewis, in the context that “the presidency was won by Biden in a state where blacks were crucial in this electoral outcome”.

Biden arrives at the White House at the close of a chaotic presidency under Donald Trump, whose rhetoric fanned the flames of alt-right American ideology, chafed racial tensions, and caused widespread diplomatic carnage internationally.

The spectre of white supremacy braced the ramparts of American democracy two weeks ago when thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. Six people died in the melee, some from medical emergencies.

The headwinds of racism and political disunity will make harder Harris’ fight in securing bipartisan support in Congress with America’s heartland riven by division.

Carolyn Cooper, UWI professor emerita and literary and cultural studies expert, said that Harris’ “track record as a senator and even as a controversial district attorney suggests that she takes justice issues seriously, and I expect her to follow through as VP”.

Cooper believes that Biden’s commitment to social justice will go hand in hand with Harris’ agenda.

The retired professor is hopeful that Harris will exert pressure in retilting the balance of justice that has seen blacks in America disproportionally arrested and incarcerated for years.

She wants the new vice-president to free inmates “imprisoned for charges that seem, in retrospect, to be unworthy of imprisonment”. Marijuana convictions are among those Cooper hopes Harris will revisit.