Last night’s Democratic presidential debate was absolutely dominated by one person, across gender and race, and that Senator Kamala Harris. The politician has not only emerged as a strong contender for Democratic candidacy in the upcoming 2020 elections, but has also caught the attention of the world. You don’t have to be following US politics to know when a good candidate begins to create ripples, because social media will let you know of it. And since last night, people cannot stop talking about how Kamala Harris refused to be shut down. And being the only woman of colour on stage, it mattered.

SOME TAKEAWAYS:

  • Senator Kamala Harris dominated the Democratic presidential debate held last night.
  • Despite being up against veteran leaders and front-runner candidates like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Harris dominated the debate.
  • She not only steered the dialogue but made it clear that she wasn’t going to be spoken over.
  • Her conduct is an inspiration for women to reclaim debates across boardroom and drawing rooms.

You don’t have to be following US politics to know when a good candidate begins to create ripples, because social media will let you know of it.

Debates across the world politics are littered with unwanted interjections and ceremonial cut-offs. While the situation may be beyond help here in India, it isn’t as if intervening someone’s argument is unheard of in the West. To an extent we think of some interference as normal. But with changing times we have begun to question if race and gender play a big role in how these interruptions pan out. Do women get cut-off more while speaking publicly? We all know the answer to this question, and we also know how this isn’t just limited to political platforms. Be it boardrooms or drawing rooms, women are accustomed to being cut off from presenting their point of view, because our patriarchal society conditions men into believing that they know better. For many men, even with good intentions, it is almost a habit to intervene a woman from speaking with certain urgency. As if waiting for her to finish her opinion will somehow reduce the potency of their ‘suggestions’.

As a result of this constant interruption, a lot of women don’t feel confident to speak up or voice their thoughts, especially when surrounded by men. It is a struggle to just raise a voice, let alone guide a dialogue. On interruption and we willingly tap out, because who has the stamina to argue, when you feel that there is no point in it.

But Kamala Harris just refused to be spoken over. In a debate where she was facing off with veteran leaders like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Harris not only veered the discussion to cover significant issues like anti-bussing and racism, but also ensured that she had the stage to herself. When the discussion moved to racism on heels of a person of colour reportedly being shot by a white police officer in South Bend, Harris took lead in the discussion by saying, “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race.” She then turned to the Democrat candidacy front runner Biden and said, “I do not believe you are a racist. But it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Outside of the debate room, Harris speaking up so clearly and forcefully, almost claiming the stage on basis of her race and gender, was inspirational. It should inspire women to speak up more often and learn to shut out those who interrupt.

Bussing is the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools so as to redress prior racial segregation of schools in the US. Harris accused Biden of opposing this practice and while Biden did retaliate with an argument, it was clear that Harris had won the round. Joe Biden’s candidacy for the Democratic Party has been so strong till now, because it seemed like there wasn’t another strong contender within the party who could challenge his claim. But now that Harris has arrived, Biden clearly has a tough competition.

But outside of the debate room, Harris speaking up so clearly and forcefully, almost claiming the stage on basis of her race and gender, was inspirational. It should inspire women to speak up more often and learn to shut out those who interrupt, especially on issues where they clearly have a better grasp. We won’t have a voice by just speaking up, it will take the confidence of a Kamala Harris to say, ‘I know what am talking about, so please let me finish.’

If you need another nudge, see how Harris confidently spoke on the issue of immigrant children being held at border detention, “Ensure that this microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way that is about reflecting the values of our country.” Harris knows she is going places.

Picture Credit: nbcnews.com

Also Read: If Only Such Heart-Breaking Images Made Us Care For Immigrant Kids

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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