Senator Kamala Harris’s debate performance last Thursday night in Houston, Texas was phenomenal. She has received a lot of credit for her wit, her pith, and her smart decision to train her fire on Donald Trump as opposed to needling the other Democratic candidates sharing the stage. She has been commended for being personable and quick on her feet, absolute and aerodynamic even in the face of tough questions.
Senator Harris has also been praised for skillfully laying out her impressive prosecutorial record and rather powerfully and eloquently speaking on the importance of Black educators for Black children. Some paying especially close attention have even rewarded Senator Harris for her nonverbal finesse and clearly superior preparedness.
First, I deeply appreciate and want to affirm all of these observations. Being the only Black woman pursuing anything, anywhere, in America, is hard. Being the only Black woman running for president of the United States must be unbelievably demanding. So it makes me very happy to see Senator Harris receive any and all forms of affirmation, affection, and admiration. Briefly, I want to add to the accumulation.
There were moments during the debate when I thought to myself: You know, If I were on a plane pitched nose down in a tailspin, I would want Kamala Harris to be on that plane with me, because unlike me (and many others screaming), Senator Harris would be able to think carefully, act swiftly, and calmly reassure me of my safety. In last Thursday’s debate, the sense never flickered or faded that she was up there having fun — and separating herself from the pack in the process.
She exuded confidence in the composure of her warmth, the angle of her self-assertion, and the naturalness of her stage presence. I felt like I was watching someone do five or six things really well, all at the same time. The most satisfying description I’ve drummed up: Senator Harris artfully employed her superlative talent to persuasive effect. A performance of the highest caliber that gave me something to feel good about.
Less enjoyably, a few words on the slipshod commentary of some detractors over the last week. Success engenders criticism. Add race and gender to the mix and fairness is gone with the wind. When people search and are unable to find, they will strain to sketch a picture (however poorly) that satisfies their desire to be seen and feel more powerful. In the worst cases, we see fear and envy latch onto old ideas of racism and sexism to sustain the false sense of superiority upon which an overanxious ego depends. To some of Senator Harris’ more thoughtful critics, I hope that in the context of any criticism you offer, you will meaningfully acknowledge her considerable strengths, her personal strength, her credentials, and the countless obstacles she faces.
It is a long election, I’ve been told, and I look forward to seeing her star rise as she continues on the campaign trail. I look forward to reading and writing more about her success, her vision for America, her relationship with Black America, and the power she wields wisely as a Black woman candidate for the highest office in our land. I hope that soon enough we will see Senator Harris emerge as the extraordinary frontrunner her ability ensures.
Zachary R. Wood is an Assistant Curator at TED and author of “Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America.”