Kamala Harris Bought a New Jacket and the Debate About It Missed the Point

Pundits and journalists were up in arms, but the uproar lost an important takeaway.

Photo Credit: Mason Trinca/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

Kamala Harris’s campaign trail visit to a boutique in Columbia, South Carolina this Saturday raised the ire of conservative pundits and some members of the media. Senator Harris (D-Calif.), the current frontrunner for the democratic presidential nominee in 2020, according to the most recent CNN poll, visited the area as part of a small tour of women-owned businesses. At the urging of Maeve Reston, CNN’s national political reporter, Harris tried on (and purchased) a multicolor sequin jacket at the boutique. “We kind of forced @kamalaharris to try on this awesome oversized rainbow sequin jacket… She snapped it up,” Reston tweeted.

Some felt Reston violated journalistic ethics by goading Harris’ purchase: “Quite the objective journalist you are. Proud?” fumed former conservative talk radio host Neal Boortz.

Even a Reston enthusiast was displeased: “I’m a fan of yours,” wrote Time columnist and Fox News opinion contributor, Christopher J. Hale, “but this isn’t good Maeve. It doesn’t strike me as sober, objective journalism.”

Others resorted to blatantly sexist attacks: “Wow. Is the next stop the nail salon where you will share D.C. gossip about abortions and the New Green Deal while giggling?”

But Harris defenders quickly called out the double standard: “Nobody seemed to have a problem when the candidate was @ScottWalker and the activity was motorcycle riding, or @MittRomney riding jet skis on vacation, or skeet shooting with @LindseyGrahamSC. I’m all for female candidates expanding the list of campaign activities,” MSNBC’s host of Kasie DC, Kasie Hunt retorted.

While Hunt’s observation is an astute one, what’s missing from the debate is the power of Harris’s decision to take a break from work to fulfill a private pleasure and express her personal style. And there’s nothing superficial or trivial about it. In today’s workforce, the firm line between our personal and professional lives has blurred, giving us the opportunity to “connect with others in a genuine way, and allow ourselves to be truly seen,” Mike Robbins, a leadership expert and the author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work: How Vulnerability Unlocks Creativity, Connection, and Performance, wrote on Thrive.

The stilted, unnatural divisions we’ve historically been forced to keep between our private and public selves have given way to a less stringent corporate ethos that favors showing up authentically in our places of work, which Robbins believes — as do we — will “create success and fulfillment for ourselves,” but will have “the greatest impact on the people around us.” Whatever side of this controversy you fall on, Harris’s small gesture and the fun and levity it created speaks to the power of sharing the many facets of ourselves with our colleagues… and our constituents.

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