Like many, if not most, women of color, we often find ourselves seated at tables with no one who looks like us. We are told to wait our turn, told we were wrong, and told the time or place just isn’t right to raise issues that are important to us, like valuing caregiving or addressing systematic inequality. But maybe something is changing.
Over the last few months we’ve seen people from all walks of life stand together against systemic racism, demanding equality and justice. And on Tuesday, former vice president Joe Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate and partner in rebuilding the country from unprecedented public health and economic crises.
As women of color, we are thrilled to see the Democratic Party nominate the first Black and Indian American woman to join a presidential ticket. Harris is a smart, strategic fighter who understands the issues that matter most to Americans — especially women of color.
Women of color are often the canaries in the coal mine for issues facing society. As caregivers, registered nurses, teachers and child care workers — women of color are on the front lines of the pandemic. They do this despite being at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Our research at the Center for American Progress finds that workers of color — especially Black, multiracial and American Indian/Alaska Native women — have been disproportionately suffering from COVID-19 due to issues that women of color have long been advocating to fix: lack of access to affordable, culturally competent care and racism in the health system.
Women of color aren’t only leading our country’s response to the pandemic, we are also a growing force in the electorate. The surest way to earn our support is to develop an agenda that not only supports us through crises, but also advances systemic policy changes to meet our needs. This requires having a deep understanding of the lives that women of color lead. It means eradicating the structural barriers and systemic racism hindering access to quality, affordable health care. It means understanding the substantial economic role that women of color play in their families and communities, ensuring they have paid leave and child care. It means addressing wage and wealth disparities and the inequities in workplace protections. It means recognizing the essential work that many women of color carry out in professions that have been historically undervalued. And it means creating a new normal where we drive the conversation about policies critical to our lives.
Senator Harris understands this. We know, because when she talks about issues like structural racism in maternal health care, she centers the hard truth: Black women in America are three to four times more likely to die of preventable deaths than non-Hispanic white women. She knows that if we want to dismantle bias in the health care system, we have to listen to Black women and their experiences. She’s spent her career in public service fighting to expand access to health care and championed bold ideas as a senator and presidential candidate on equal pay, paid leave and criminal justice reform.
Most recently, she introduced the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Taskforce Act, which would create a team of policy experts, regional leaders and federal officials to develop recommendations on how to effectively direct resources to communities most impacted by the virus. Not only does the bill respond to the current pandemic but it also calls on this task force to address the longer term, structural issues causing the racial and ethnic disparities in wellbeing we’ve seen for generations.
Women of color comprise one of the most powerful and influential voices in this election. Come November, we will remember who stood with us, not only in times of crisis, but all along. We’ll also remember all of the women of color throughout history who have been the heart and soul of the progressive movement. We’ve long known how vital it is for women of color to be at the table — as candidates, as voters and as agents of change. Harris knows this. And in choosing her to be the nation’s first Madam Vice President, Joe Biden makes clear he knows this too.
Shilpa Phadke is the vice president of the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Danyelle Solomon is the vice president of the Race and Ethnicity Policy at the center. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.