*When Barack Obama became the first Black President of the United States in 2008, it was an office that many people felt they would never see a Black man or woman reach – ever. In 2020, Kamala Harris‘ footsteps as a pioneer were historic on several fronts, to include becoming the first Black woman and first woman of any color to ascend to the office of the Vice President of the United States. She was also the first woman of Indian descent, and the first HBCU graduate to hold the second highest office in the world. And if President Joe Biden is the most powerful man in the world, Vice President Kamala Harris is the most powerful woman on the globe.
While both Obama and Harris are Black, the 12 years between their historic victories showed a much different nation.
“In 2008, we didn’t have hundreds of thousands of our young people on the street protesting racism and the sort of systemic racial issues that you see with the criminal justice system,” said Cornell Belcher, author of “A Black man in the White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America’s Racial-Aversion Crisis. “Those issues were propelled to the front and center, among 2020 voters who chose Biden and Harris.”
Yet, Obama and Harris have enjoyed a friendship that goes back to when Harris was district attorney of San Francisco, and a prominent Obama supporter early in his presidential run. During her own run for Vice President, the two spoke about issues Harris would face once Biden picked her as his running mate.
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Obama, breaking the tradition of former presidents, wasn’t shy during the 2020 presidential campaign, when he publicly spoke out on the shortcomings – and there were many – of his predecessor – President Trump. Obama called Trump out for being a racist and spreading lies and called him out on the stereotypical slurs Trump hurled at Black women.
While there are some people who felt that Obama could have done more to bridge racial barriers when he was America’s first Black president, there are just as many Black people that felt he spoke out on racism on many occasions during his presidency. Some key moments were when Travon Martin was shot and killed in 2012 by a self-styled neighborhood white watchman. Obama also delivered a hard-felt eulogy in 2015 for the nine Black church members who were murdered by a white supremacist while they were in Bible class. The Justice Department, on Obama’s watch, sought to change police practices, including establishing a task force that wrote a guidebook for police departments in America. The Trump administration abandoned what the Obama’s administration had done.
And as for Harris, even as the vice president candidate in 2020, spoke forcefully against the killing of George Floyd that jump-started a summer of nationwide protests for racial justice. Biden and Harris will be under tremendous pressure to push harder on racial issues that negatively impact Black people.
Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, said “Harris uses the language of the movement to talk about racism as a structural problem.”
Garza, however, worries that the Biden administration may lose its resolve to tackle systemic racism, as other crises take precedence.