Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had a historic win, making room for many firsts — most notably, Harris as the first Black and South Asian woman vice president-elect of the United States. Daughter to an Indian born mother and Jamaican born father, Harris’s journey as a first-generation immigrant from Oakland to the White House is nothing short of extraordinary.
Watching Harris walk onto a stage behind bulletproof glass in her white outfit to give her victory speech following the historic win was bone-chilling. I watched this moment surrounded by my family, who look a lot like Harris, and watched their eyes swell with tears and faces filled with hope. As a Black and Asian woman, I was captivated by the symbolism of it all but undeniably underwhelmed as well.
I understood that this moment was important, it felt important, but I was also discouraged by the fact that we are still celebrating firsts in 2020. I am old enough to remember the celebration of former President Barack Obama’s win in 2008 and again in 2012. The optimism was quickly drained from Black folks when they realized a Black president would not get us free. There was a Black man in the presidential office when Trayvon Martin was gunned down only 30 minutes away from my house and his murderer ultimately walked free. So while I recognize the importance of Harris, I fear watching that same optimism Black people held in 2008 and 2012 taken from them again.
Too often, we get caught up in the symbolism and absolve that symbol from any criticism. While Harris is Black, South Asian, a woman, and first-generation American, she is still a public figure that is susceptible to criticism. Ultimately, there is enough evidence to prove that she has hurt Black and Brown people disproportionately, particularly during her time as California’s attorney general. As a Black and Asian woman, I am validated in a way, but as a leftist, I am ultimately disappointed in her politics.
There’s this binary that social media has created in the left’s reaction to Harris’ win, and most are either incredibly inspired or indifferent. I believe there’s room to be both because I am both. I recognize that young Black and Asian girls can grow up to see someone who looks like them rise to one of the world’s highest positions. But I also recognize that these little girls and their families will still experience systemic racism and injustice. These things can all be true.
Moving forward, I will advocate for more Black and brown girls to rise to positions of power, all while keeping them accountable for their actions. The people of America have elected Harris to serve them, and they are allowed to demand that she represents their needs in the executive office. But they are also allowed to dream about how many more young girls will see Kamala and think, “I can do that too.”