What Does Kamala Harris' Win As Vice President-Elect Mean For Social Change?
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last."
Famous first words, from an equally famous first woman.
By now, you may have heard this iconic quote from the United States' new Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. After a nail-biting election — one that had been anxiously followed by countless across the globe — a new President and Vice-President elect had been named on the 7th of November 2020. Joe Biden, former Vice President to Barack Obama, had won with running mate, Kamala Harris. And despite skepticism brought on by a divided America, both Democrats had, in their own ways, shattered the glass ceiling. For one, Biden had won more votes than any Presidential candidate in United States history — despite his early sluggishness in the polls.
It's no surprise then that his victory is seen as a hopeful beginning in the United States. But to some, another white man in the White House isn't exactly groundbreaking. Kamala Harris' win on the other hand, was.
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Even during her Vice-Presidential nomination, Kamala Harris had become something of a symbol to the people. The fact that a woman of colour was being given the chance to hold high office — one that had been previously denied to so many minorities — was an exciting turn of events. And yet, her nomination came at a time of Trumpian leadership; the country's president was a man who made sexist remarks, and allegedly followed through with them. How would the people who had put Trump in the Oval Office take to news of that?
In the divisive climate, Harris' nomination back in August had simultaneously made her: a breath of fresh air, and a threat to the Republicans. But now, as Vice President-elect, Harris is close to cementing what millions across the United States — and perhaps the world — had hoped for: representation, and an ideology that centres on something quite averse to what Trump continues to market.
Who Is Kamala Harris?
In short, Kamala Harris will be the United States' first female Vice President. Born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris is all together Asian, American, and black. She was raised by a single mother, also an immigrant, who was both a cancer researcher and civil rights activist.
The Vice President-elect has been vocal about seeing her mother as a role model. “My mother, who raised me and my sister, was a proud woman,” Harris had said while campaigning. It was her mother's determination, Harris credits, that shaped her and her sister, Maya, into "confident, proud Black women".
For her university years, Harris had chosen to attend Howard University, which is known as one of the most prestigious and historically Black colleges in the United States. It was there that Harris further sharpened her skills in debate and deepened her interest in politics.
This exact diversity is what some researchers suggest helped her connect to voters. As multi-faceted as she is, she's become relatable to a wide-ranging set of people. Her position is also what experts credit to the increased turnout of Asian-American voters.
Glass Half Empty Or Glass Half Full?
Despite the promise of Harris' win, not everyone feels the elation that most would expect. In fact, the new Vice President-elect faces a double edged sword when it comes to instilling hope within her constituents.
While some people see Harris' success as hope for the future, others see it as a reminder for how far the country has yet to go. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had run for President; but despite having won the popular vote, had lost the office to Donald Trump. Clinton's loss had come as a hard hit for many of her supporters — they'd felt like the country had "validated a divider", while "turning its back on an intelligent woman". It was disillusioning, and a handful of voters have carried that to this day.
Many also remain doubtful as to how far the ripples of Harris' win may go. Despite the profusion of praise she's received, she's also been on the receiving end of criticism. A New York Times opinion piece called Harris out for decisions made in the earlier years of her career when she had "opposed criminal justice reform". And in 2019, Biden and Harris, who now have to work collaboratively, had also gotten into a heated debate about race, which could draw up questions on how well their working relationship will be in the next four years.
Of course, there's also the current social climate to deal with. Despite Harris' win, Trump's party was still able to pull in 73,698,576 votes, which shows that a significant number of Americans still have confidence in Trump either despite of, or even because of his sympathies or ideologies. How will the woman who has opposed such fare in office and in the red states?
So while Harris' win is cause for celebration — particularly to feminists and minorities — it is not the end all or be all of the country's social climate. But, as Harris herself reminds us: "Protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it. And there is progress. Because we, the people, have the power to build a better future.”