COMMENTARY: Why it matters that Kamala Harris will be the next U.S. vice-president
Ahhhhhh — you could almost feel the world collectively exhale a sigh of relief when Joe Biden was announced as president-elect last Saturday.
Within seconds of the race being called, a crowd gathered outside the White House at Black Lives Matter Plaza and erupted into cheers. People were literally dancing in the streets, with champagne showers and songs of joy. There was jubilation from New York to Los Angeles.
We saw celebrations from supporters in Ireland, Italy and India, too. In Mexico, the hashtag #MéxicoFelicitaABiden (“Mexico congratulates Biden”) was trending on Twitter. Church bells even rang in Paris.
I was at the park with my kids when I heard the news. We danced in the leaves, full of excitement. Then we sang and danced some more in our living room. We ate, drank and celebrated all day into the night — I was overjoyed. After four years of an insufferable, racist, misogynist, xenophobic Donald Trump, I knew I would be happy. But I didn’t expect the flood of emotion that would wash over me as I processed the news joining Biden in the White House would be his running mate, Kamala Harris.
It is hard to overstate as a woman — as an immigrant woman of South Asian heritage — how powerful it feels watching history being made with Harris set to become vice president of the United States.
Harris has accumulated many “firsts” throughout her career. She was the first female district attorney of San Francisco, the first female attorney general of California, the first South Asian American in the U.S. Senate. Now, she is shattering ceilings we once only imagined in our wildest dreams.
After 243 years in a role held exclusively by white men, Kamala Harris will be the first female vice president of the U.S., the first Black vice president, the first South Asian American vice president, and the first daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica to be vice president.
Kamala Devi Harris is now second in line for the most powerful office in the world.
I get goosebumps as I write these words. Because of her, there are thousands of Americans (and Canadians) who now see politics and real possibilities for their immigrant families, their daughters and even themselves.
And I’m not the only one.
Eternity Martis, a journalist and author who was born to a Pakistani mother and Jamaican father, struggled with identity growing up.
“There’s this idea that if you’re mixed with Black, saying you’re multiracial is an attempt to distance yourself from being Black, and that was never true for me,” Martis says. “It took me a long time to be unapologetic about being both, so seeing Harris embrace both sides has been so reassuring that we all deserve to be who we are and identify how we choose.”
Martis credits the media for reporting on Harris’ multiracial identity. “After all, North America is full of interracial relationships and multiracial people, so it’s time we start being mindful of representation.”
I cannot emphasize enough how much representation truly matters.
Monica Sood, an elementary school teacher with the York Region District School Board, as we were chatting about the election, told me that Harris’ election is proof that “anything is possible,” and hopes it will inspire Black and South Asian girls and boys to see that they can realize their dreams and goals.
“I’ll never forget the look of awe on my kids’ faces when we told them Kamala was Black and South Asian,” she says. “I was excited that they would be able to see someone who was biracial like them being celebrated as the next vice president.”
Mandeep Kaur Mucina, an assistant professor in the school of child and youth care at the University of Victoria told me. that as a mother of biracial children, she is overwhelmed by what Harris’ win represents.
Mucina says she hugged her daughter as she told her the news. “We jumped up and down on the bed and squeezed each other with love and excitement. I know for me this means we are seen and heard on a different level and my kids can be proud of their dual race and identity.”
In politics, symbolism can be substance. And as important as Harris’ cultural background is to recognize, it would be a disservice to ourselves to limit this historical moment to that alone.
I’m not blind and do not believe that suddenly racism is solved, the pandemic will fade into the abyss, and all of these deep-seated problems that exist in the U.S. as well as here in our country will dissipate overnight.
But Harris’ connection to Black and brown communities position her to better understand the specific inequalities and injustices our communities face. After seeing disappointment after disappointment in our systems of governance, there is a renewed sense of hope.
“America’s sidewalks are stained with Black blood,” Harris said in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders.
In June of this year, she helped introduce the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, a bold, comprehensive approach to change the culture of law enforcement and policing.
As vice president, she is poised to bring about real change. From her years of experience as a prosecutor and lawyer, there is optimism that she will help Biden restore justice to a broken justice system on issues of racial equality, follow the logic of science in fighting this global pandemic, and end the deplorable immigration and refugee policies that have ripped children from the arms of their parents.
Moreover, I feel assured she will fight for women’s rights in healthcare, education and the economy. In a year that has brought so much devastation and despair, to think of these possibilities fills me with hope for the future.
I’ve already read various comments online that question why there is so much focus on Harris’ cultural background as Black and South Asian instead of looking at the fact she’s qualified.
Comments like those fail to see the intersectionality of Harris and show precisely why we need to focus on her background. It is part of the fabric of her identity. We need to see the colour, we need to be seen. For too long colour and sex have been barriers. When these ceilings are shattered, they are so worthy of celebration.
If Biden only serves one term, as expected, there is a chance that come 2024, Harris may very well become the first Black and South Asian female president of the United States. Regardless of what happens four years from now, in this current moment, Harris’ vice-presidency is being written in our history books. And to that, I will dance in celebration.
Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.
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