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Kamala Harris Is 1st Woman Of Color On A Major Party Presidential Ticket


Joe Biden has chosen his running mate. It is California Sen. Kamala Harris. She will make history as the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket. Her parents were immigrants from Jamaica and India. Biden's decision comes months after he said he would choose a woman and after intense pressure from many in his party to pick a Black woman. NPR's Juana Summers covers demographics and culture in the campaign. She's with us now.

Hey, Juana.


KELLY: Just how intense has this pressure been on Biden as this decision loomed?

SUMMERS: It has gotten more intense by the week. There have been a series of attempts to put public pressure on this process with a number of open letters and op-eds from prominent activists, strategists and public figures who have made clear that they believe that Joe Biden should be picking one of several of the Black women that he was considering as his running mate up until this point. And I do think that's something that intensified as the political atmosphere in this country intensified after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

And here's just one example of how intense this pressure was. Recently, the news broke that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a white woman, had met with Biden to discuss the possibility of joining him on the ticket. And we heard a lot of anger and frustration from those Black women strategists and activists who believe that it was a requirement that Biden select a Black woman as his running mate. We saw something similar a little while ago with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another white woman who was seen as a potential running mate, and she ultimately ended up pulling herself out of consideration in this ongoing discussion about racial injustice and police brutality, some of which centered on her home state. And at the time, she said that she believed herself that Joe Biden should choose a woman of color instead.

KELLY: You know, in the days leading up to this pick, there was a lot of commentary about the women under consideration, lots of coded words, people talking about people who might be more ambitious than another candidate, a lot of pitting of one Black potential candidate against another in the press. That drew a backlash. It was pretty strongly called out, which is not something we have seen so much in past campaigns. What is your read on that?

SUMMERS: Yeah. I think people honestly were just really frustrated that we were having the same conversations about women and electability and ambition that we've been having for decades in a way that we do not talk about male candidates. I covered the 2016 campaign, and I know that when covering Hillary Clinton's campaign, a lot of times people would ignore these kinds of broadsides, not point to sexism, and that's really changed. We're in a completely different political environment. We have seen women expand their political power. The #MeToo movement has ushered in these new fights against sexism in business and media and politics, and I think the game has just changed. People are ready to call it out openly.

KELLY: Juana, just step back and talk about the Democratic Party for a second because even before this summer's protests, Democrats were wrestling with how dependent they are on the votes of Black voters and Black women to win elections. They were accused of not doing enough for Black voters. How big a factor has that been in shaping the campaign so far?

SUMMERS: It's been a huge factor, and it was particularly huge for Kamala Harris from day one of her campaign when she announced that she was running for president on Martin Luther King Day in 2019 and paid homage to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party's nomination. And so I think that Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris is a reflection of the diversity of the Democratic coalition and specifically a reflection of the Black voters who have played a key role in his ability to secure the nomination. Without Black voters, Joe Biden would have been unlikely to secure this nomination.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR's Juana Summers reporting.

Thanks so much.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.