VP and me: Reflecting on Harris’ journey

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Rosy Arora

Last weekend marked the four year anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March. I was in eighth grade when I made my mom drive me and two friends to Washington D.C. for the event. I was disappointed that Hillary Clinton had lost the recent presidential election, but I marched because I was angry that she had been defeated by a man who had openly bragged about sexually harassing women on video and that 63 million Americans did not find his behavior disqualifying. The fact that almost 500,000 people showed up to march that Saturday was comforting to my 13-year-old self because it was an acknowledgement that many agreed that women were not seen. 

Kamala Devi Harris, recently elected to the U.S. Senate, emerged in the national political scene at that exact moment and spoke to the crowd about fighting a fight that may be considered “unwinnable.” Her inauguration four years later as the first woman and first person of color to be Vice President is an important milestone. Harris brings both political skill and a diverse set of gender, racial, and cultural perspectives to the office. These attributes have the power to profoundly impact the country’s future.  

 Vice President Harris is accomplished in law and public service, and her career is characterized by achievement, political savvy, and barrier breaking. In the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, she was the chief of the Division on Children and Families and established California’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice. She was the first woman and person of color to be elected District Attorney of San Francisco. She then went on to be the first female of color to be elected Attorney General of California, where her signature accomplishment was negotiating a $20 billion settlement for California homeowners during the mortgage foreclosure crisis. She also created an online platform called Open Justice, which made criminal justice data available to the public on the number of deaths and injuries of people in police custody. She went on to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. During the 2020 presidential campaign her record as a prosecutor was heavily criticized, and many people think she will need to prove that she is as committed to criminal justice reform as she promised.

I, like many, am just as inspired by her personal history as I am by her professional one. Harris is the daughter of parents of two different races — Black and South Asian — and two cultures — Jamaican and Indian — and unapologetically celebrates them all. She grew up going to two places of worship, a Black Baptist Church and a Hindu temple. She visited her mother’s family in India frequently as she explored her South Asian identity. She attended Howard University, and through the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority met a group of female friends that have been a source of strength throughout her life. 

I see myself in Vice President Harris’ multi-dimensionality. I also grew up in a household of two religions, cultures, and traditions. I am mixed race; my mother is white and my father, who came to the U.S. in his twenties, is Indian. Most people can’t tell that I am South Asian, and I often don’t feel “Indian enough.” Ultimately, I am not sure which dimension of Harris’ rich identity resonates most with me. However, I see an accomplished woman who avoids labels and is brave enough to bring her many identities to the job instead of trying to minimize her complexity. It’s both a source of pride and relief to see her in the White House, because she represents progress. 

I am also inspired by Harris’ candor about the challenges she has faced as a woman in politics. Reflecting on the many naysayers throughout her career, her advice to younger women is  “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast, so I would recommend the same. It’s a hearty breakfast.” Contemplating both the weight of being “the first” and the obligation that women have to mentor each other, she credits her mother for reminding her that “you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” Her expression of her multicultural identity and her persistence in breaking down barriers for others has made me think about how I can have the greatest impact. 

President Biden and Vice President Harris will preside over a cabinet that is the most diverse in history; it includes General Lloyd Austin, the first African-American Defense Secretary, Avril Haines as the first female Director of National Intelligence, and Janet Yellen as the first female Treasury Secretary. It is thrilling to imagine Harris’ influence over this slate of candidates. In her role as Head of the Senate, she will cast the tie breaking vote, an influential position that will make her critical in advancing the new administration’s agenda. 

Vice President Harris may be uniquely suited to lead, but she will also be uniquely tested at a difficult time in America. Systemic racism has been revealed through high profile cases of police brutality and glaring health disparities exacerbated by the current pandemic. According to the Nation Women’s Law Center, over 2.1 million women have dropped out of the workforce since last February as the result of an economic recession. Harris represents the possibility of a new chapter in America. In this chapter, we will acknowledge each other’s diverse identities rather than oversimplifying them; we will show respect for each other by making an effort to pronounce an “unusual” name, and we will work harder to understand perspectives that are different from our own.