“It makes me nervous,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) when she was asking for further clarity in his response to her question. I guess it would be intimidating to see and hear an African-American woman command a room.
On Wednesday, June 14, during Sessions’ hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Harris was the only senator to be reprimanded by her male colleagues and Jeff Sessions himself. Sen. Harris was asking Sessions if he had any communication with the Russians, and his delayed (stalled) response prompted Harris to ask for clarity in his answer.
Sessions fired back at her saying he was “not able to be rushed that fast,” according to The Washington Post.
Later in that day, Sen. Harris questioned Sessions’ lack of substance in his response(s) throughout the hearing, and she was called out by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing. Senator Harris, let him answer.”
While being reprimanded by her fellow senators, Sessions seemed to be chuckling at the scene. But according to NBC, before and after Harris questioned Sessions, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) was most noticeably interrupting Sessions throughout the hearing, with no reprimands from Sessions or the other senators.
I did not personally get to see this happen on live TV, but learning about these events last Thursday made me think about what it takes for women lawmakers to be heard.
As an African-American woman, I saw Sessions’ reprimanding of Sen. Harris as disrespectful and an exercise of his male, white superiority. Some say Sessions’ response was sexist, but I sensed both racial and sexist tensions from the altercation.
Is Sessions’ behavior condoned because we live in a white supremacist patriarchal oligarchy? Why couldn’t Harris ask the tough questions with support from her peers? Was it the fact that she was a woman of color who was going for the jugular, demanding clarity and truth in Sessions’ answers?
The saddest part about this interaction is that it is not the first time she was interrupted.
According to The New York Times, on Wednesday, June 7, Sen. Harris was interrupted and scolded by Sen. McCain and Sen. Burr while questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Many spectators have viewed both of these incidents, and have stormed Twitter in numbers in favor of Sen. Harris.
According to the U.S. Senate, only 10 African-Americans have served in the Senate, and Sen. Harris is the second African-American woman to serve.
Harris embodies a courageous soul and spirit of activism, and that is why she won’t let the microaggressions of her white male colleagues deter her from delivering justice. Like many women before her, Sen. Harris knew she’d face racist and sexist opposition when pursuing a career dominated by white men, but she also knows her voice being represented is the first step to holding the system accountable.
Carol Braun, Michelle Obama, Cynthia McKinney, Shirley Chisholm and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) are just a few African-American women who exuded passion, intelligence, the spirit of activism and a courageous soul when tackling the impossible. These women are the firsts in their industries to break down barriers, bring awareness to social injustice and fight for change through different platforms.
These women have paved the way for my generation to become the next movers and shakers. These women are who we refer to on social media as #blackgirlmagic.
These beautiful and talented Black women went out into the world empowered and strong, flourishing in each of their respective areas. If they could handle everything that’s been thrown at them and remain solid and strong, then I know that Sen. Harris is able to handle what’s next to come with the congressional hearings. In the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”
Sen. Harris responded back on Twitter and reassured followers that her spirit isn’t broken from the encounter, but motivated to increase the presence of female voices in the halls populated by stagnant, white men.
There is nothing new about what Sen. Harris faced. Black woman will always have to fight harder than anyone else because our sex and race play against us in the eyes of the majority.
But, that won’t stop us from fighting for respect, equality and diversity.
We, as Black women, have a long road to go until that day comes, but luckily for us, we have Sen. Kamala Harris, and others like her, carrying the torch of justice.
Kayla, 18, will attend Spelman College in the fall.