But This IS Our America, Ms. Harris: Musings and a Close Reading of Kamala Harris’s Launch Speech

A wise teacher once told me that “good teachers teach the zeitgeist.”

Nah, nobody said that, but I’m sure that you’ve heard a myriad of sound bytes by now from Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign launch in Oakland, California on Sunday. Rather than rely on the sound bytes, I urge you to read through the speech in its entirety yourself: Link to full transcript via Medium. Or, you could watch the speech if you’d like to fully appreciate it in its original form: Link to YouTube video

This is not explicitly a political blog, but I’m still going to venture a few rough opinions from time to time as a private citizen. So here we are.

  • This was a good reminder of just how short four years really can be. The fact that we are already here, at this moment, gearing up for 2020 is calming and reassuring to those who find the current administration intolerable both ideologically and politically. Is this the light at the end of a dark, post-truth tunnel?
  • I filter all of my politicians through a “What’s in it for the black folks” lens. I want to hear you directly address the concerns of my community and make them central to your platform. I’m not entirely satisfied here. Yes, I am more than aware that politicians don’t have to have a “hey, y’all, this is for the black folks” section in each of their speeches to be supportive of policies and practices that address the concerns of the black community. But here are a few exemplars: Senator Warren’s bill to address redlining and H.R. 40, a bill that merely seeks to establish a Commission to study reparations. I don’t hear similar rhetoric here, or even hints that this kind of targeted action will be a part of her platform. I’m going to need to hear it. Please don’t take the support of the black community for granted, Ms. Harris. Please don’t try to Howard hustle your way into office without giving us specifics.
  • It’s a beautifully written speech, following in the Obama tradition of being sure to utilize one’s personal narrative as symbolic of the new American hero archetype. Senator Harris is charming and appears warm without being syrupy-that’s not easy to achieve.
  • I’m growing weary of the “America, we are better than this” rhetoric that seems to be so popular. Every time I hear that phrase, I want to shout back, NO, CLEARLY WE ARE NOT, DAMN IT. It’s far too forgiving of this country, which has plenty of atoning left to do for past and present injustices, and laughably ahistorical. If I was an aspiring speechwriter for these folks, I would challenge myself to find a different way to invoke hope so we can eschew this Pollyanna isht. It insults the collective reality of those to whom this country has proven that it is exactly what it has always been.

Now that I’ve indulged myself a bit as a quasi-pundit, let’s get down to the teaching business. I’ve created a close reading that places portions of Harris’s speech underneath a microscope and guides students through rhetorical analysis. Students should have some groundwork laid for navigating ethos, pathos, and logos prior to tackling this lesson. I would start this off with showing at least a portion of the speech, so that students can get a sense of what this speech was in its original form. You will find the goods to the close reading itself here for the low price of $1 (Link to Kamala Harris Close Reading) and while you’re there, you might as well follow my TeachersPayTeachers page so that you can get more where that came from as it is uploaded.

Don’t forget to do your disclaimers and mention that you are not having them analyze this speech as an endorsement of a particular political candidate, but rather as a model for what makes good citizenship: engaging with political ideas and scrutinizing them. Enjoy, and let me know how it goes! 🙂