White Out: The Unrelenting Quest to Erase Kamala Harris

Courtney Swanson
Oct 17 · 8 min read

The Democratic Primaries started off promisingly diverse. Secretary Julian Castro was the first to announce his candidacy, and Senator Kamala Harris was one of the next to join the race barely a week later. Senator Cory Booker declared the beginning of February — and for a brief moment, we had a primary that reflected the voting base of the Democratic party.

It didn’t last.

Kamala Harris announced her candidacy to a roaring crowd of over 20,000 people, which remains a record in the 2020 Primary. Many were excited about her entry into the race, particularly after the hearings of Jeff Sessions and Brett Kavanaugh. Anticipating the likelihood of her run, the hit pieces began before her formal announcement, including the creation of the hashtag #KamalaIsaCop as a continuation of Russian bot propaganda to subdue the turnout of black voters.

The distortion of Kamala Harris’s stellar record came from both right wing sources like the Washington Examiner, and leftwing sites like The Intercept. Most of these “criticisms” (such as wrongly attributing her to Jamal Trulove’s incarceration, outcries for not prosecuting Mnuchin, and allegedly fighting to keep prisoners in jail for cheap labor) have been completely debunked, but they remain staples in the comment sections of Twitter and Facebook from both Trump supporters and so-called progressives. Journalists also permit these distortions to go unchallenged, with the lone exception of Politifact debunking Tulsi Gabbard’s false claims after the second debate.

The disinformation surrounding Kamala Harris is inordinately persistent, but it is not limited to bad faith takes from journalists. The bot activity surrounding Kamala Harris is striking, particularly for a candidate that polls between 4th and 5th place. On a weekly basis, Kamala receives between 125 to 190 mentions on TV news stations, which is staggeringly less than the three people polling above her — yet the estimated bot activity stalking her account outnumbers every single other candidate in the top 6 combined. This means that Kamala has fewer options to defend herself on television (and those mentions usually skew negative, rather than neutral or positive), and far more attacks targeting her.

(this graphic was made by @blackwomenviews on Twitter)

Kamala Harris is empirically mentioned less often than other candidates, even when there is every reason to center her in a news story. This has been seen time and time again. The first example to be shown considers Kamala Harris’s signature policy — the LIFT Act, which is her tax proposal that would reverse the Trump tax code and create the option for families to tap into their refund for up to $500 a month. An entire article was written about a California program that piloted something similar, yet Kamala Harris — the junior California Senator — is not mentioned once.

Similarly, Kamala Harris was the first person to introduce a maternal mortality bill that centered black women. California took measures at the state level to combat this epidemic, yet despite being the Senator from California and the leader on this issue, Elizabeth Warren was quoted for the article.

In truth, most of Kamala Harris’s policies go unmentioned or unexamined by the media, a fact which Rep. Wilson highlights in this interview.

Kamala Harris will present an excellent proposal, an excellent idea, and they’ll say it, but they won’t cover it. Start to pay attention, and you’ll see it. -Representative Frederica Wilson, FL.

Kamala Harris’s healthcare proposal was the first to create a cap for monthly prescription drug costs; unbeknownst to The Daily Beast, who reported that Pete Buttigieg had the first plan despite Kamala announcing hers months beforehand. When Harris spokesman Ian Sams pointed out the discrepancy, The Daily Beast removed and reposted the article omitting the “first” without an apology or correction.

The Daily Beast doesn’t stand alone in skipping over Kamala Harris to highlight Pete Buttigieg, however. While reporting on the latest poll for California’s primary, MSNBC displayed the following graph:

not pictured — Kamala Harris, the actual 4th place candidate

…which would be fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that Kamala Harris was above Pete by 3 points there, erasing Kamala from her home state once again.

Gun control is another realm where Kamala Harris has come out strong, and early, proposing her plan in April 2019 to take executive action if Congress did not act within 100 days. The Giffords Foundation coordinated with all the major 2020 contenders to release a call to action video on gun control, which Kamala Harris naturally participated in. And she was removed from the ad by MSNBC when they ran it for her trouble. This example is particularly egregious because it was not a case of an omission — they had to intentionally edit the video to remove her segment.

Of a similar vein, Kamala Harris was one of many 2020 candidates to wish Bernie Sanders a speedy recovery after his heart attack, both privately in a phone call and publicly to reporters. NowThis, however, managed to include everyone who had spoken out except her.

The erasure of Kamala Harris’s long, impressive history with the LGBTQ+ community is possibly the most heinous example. The aforementioned Intercept hit pieces targeted the fact that two trans inmates were denied gender affirmation surgery in California, ignoring the fact that it was Kamala Harris’s job to represent the state, and also that she reversed the policy within a year (far before that was a popular stance and during the period of time where Elizabeth Warren was calling gender affirmation surgery not a “good use of taxpayer dollars”), AND her efforts made California the first and one of the only states to ban the trans panic defense.

The two LGBT forums of the 2020 Primary apparently only read the smear articles, however. The now infamous moderation of Lyz Lenz (a white, non-LGBT woman) highlighted this, in which she framed the same premise of a question about gender affirmation surgery to Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris very differently: “How can people trust you?” to the latter, and “How can people evolve like you?” to the former.

Lenz’s questioning, refreshingly, did not go unnoticed, especially by black women on Twitter — who were subsequently blocked for their righteous indignation. Rather than apologizing, Lenz doubled down that she was proud of the work she did, shielding behind Biden’s remarks in a peak white feminist fashion.

When the second LGBTQ forum was held, the questioning by Chris Cuomo was more tame — with the obvious exception of his making light out of Kamala Harris’s opening in which she stated her preferred pronouns to a roaring applause. To Cuomo’s credit, he at least apologized immediately, unlike Lenz.

The loud applauses and stunned silences as Kamala Harris passionately retold stories of her record fighting for LGBTQ+ rights from within the justice system showed that a majority appreciated her performance, but article after article either failed to mention her entirely, or relegated her to deep within the articles.

Policy is not the only place where journalists have a peculiar tendency of erasing Kamala Harris. Her impressive, steady fundraising also gets erased. Axios reported on the cash on hand of each candidate, and listed them in a row — except for the part where they skip Kamala entirely and list Pete Buttegieg as the next person behind Biden. Rather than apologize, they just deleted the tweet.

Finally, the most recent example comes from the October debates coverage, where New York Times managed to put white candidates that weren’t even running anymore on the cover photo, yet failed to put Kamala Harris. Though in this case, Kamala was joined by her fellow candidates of color Julian Castro and Cory Booker in the erasure, making this an example of just pure racism rather than misogynoir! It was also reported that all of the white candidates, regardless of polling, got more speaking time than all of the candidates of color. For Kamala specifically, however, fear not — she was also erased from the CNN post-analysis.

Inevitably, many other examples exist that failed to make this list. But at this point, it is more than fair to say that the above are not mistakes — they are a conscious decision. They are too consistent, too frequent, and too egregious to be the innocent mishaps of a journalist. The question is — why?

The answer is one most Democrats do not seem to be ready for. She’s a black woman, committing the ultimate sin of seeking more power.

She has won every election she has ever participated in. She changed the direction of LGBTQ rights in California, and subsequently the rest of the United States. She took on the banking industry and won billions for California homeowners. She cleared rapekit backlogs, took on tech industries when they preyed on the abused and vulnerable, caught Trump surrogates in lie after lie, and centers Trump as the actual enemy of the 2020 Primary more than any other candidate. While other candidates promise, Kamala Harris does. And that scares people. It is Kamala Harris’s success in spite of the odds constantly being against her that scares them more.

“Kamala Harris has to run faster and jump higher than anybody else in this race. She cannot be equal to Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden; she has to lap them.” — Bakari Sellers

In the interest of both fairness and the need to amplify their voices, there are a few journalists and pundits out there that are seeing what is happening to Kamala Harris in real time and calling it out. Frederick Joseph, Victoria Brownworth, Charlotte Clymer, Zerlina Maxwell, and Bakari Sellers in particular have been outspoken about the erasure of her candidacy. But the fact is there are not enough voices to drown out the powers keeping her down.

The question is not, and has never been, whether or not Kamala Harris is qualified to be president. She has the policies, the platforms, the history, the experience, the charisma, the groundwork, and the grassroots that all point to an obvious yes. The question is whether or not those factors are enough to surpass the unrelenting assault on her candidacy.

With the MAGA right and the faux progressive left attacking her, and the media’s erasure, it is easy to fall into a mindset of defeatism. But to all the Kamala Harris supporters, and those sympathetic to the erasure of black women, I leave you with the words of a Joyful Warrior:

“Do not despair. Do not be overwhelmed. Do not throw up our hands when it is time to roll up our sleeves, and fight for who we are.” —Senator Kamala Devi Harris

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