“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”Kamala Harris, U.S. Vice President-Elect
As I listened to Kamala Harris speak those words on November 7, 2020, I tried to imagine what such a historic moment must have felt like for her as a woman, as a person of color, and as a first-generation American. I knew, of course, what emotions surfaced for me to watch another female accept her role as the future occupant of this nation’s second-highest executive office. Pride. Awe. Joy. Hope. Belief that even in times of darkness or division, the wheels of progress can still inch us forward.
But when I scanned each unique face in the audience of her speech, I momentarily forgot about my own anticipation and excitement. I began to think of all the people who have been told their place is on the margins. The basic freedoms and rights of citizenship brutally withheld from their ancestors. The injustices and abuses of power inflicted for centuries on their families, their communities, their lives.
To endure and flourish despite this continual systemic oppression is a revolutionary feat in itself. But to watch Kamala Harris ascend the ranks and overcome the barriers to be elected Vice President of the United States is nothing short of extraordinary. Moreover, with leaders such as Harris charting a bold new course, maybe this will not be so extraordinary in the future—just maybe, it will be normalized.
It was clearly not lost on the Vice President-elect what her presence in the White House could mean for Americans who had never seen a reflection of themselves in this role before. She drew awareness to each little girl who stood in the audience or watched on TV that night. They can “see this is a country of possibilities,” she affirmed, then went on to praise the grassroots work of those who turned such possibilities into reality.
“I’m thinking of [my mother] and the generations of Black, Asian, White, Latina and Native American women who, throughout our nation’s history, paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all, including the Black women who are often—too often—overlooked, but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”
Whether or not Harris envisioned herself as an icon for boundary-pushers to follow, her successful trajectory is one long, deep, resonant exhale for dreamers everywhere. As the daughter of a Jamaican father and a South Asian mother, countless Americans can identify with her. Women. Immigrants. People of color. Anyone whose worldview exists outside the lens of dominant culture. And her ascension to the Executive Branch is permission for all of us who feel different or disenfranchised in some way to chase our own ambitions with the confidence that we have a right to claim space in this world.
From the c-suites of a major corporation, to the lecture halls of academia, to the courtrooms of the legal system, to the creative operations of a business startup, to the research labs of science and technology, to the various seats of political office, there is enough room at the table for anyone to pursue and crush their goals. Harris will launch a new era in U.S. history when she assumes her White House responsibilities this month. And our first Black and South Asian female Vice President is absolutely correct—she will not be the last.