Kamala Harris, Barrier Destroyer

Jason Smith Jason Smith

November 18, 2020


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It was around 7 or 8pm Central Time and I had just finished my evening classes at university and was heading home. I first needed to make a stop to my UPS Store mailbox to check and see if I had any mail. I walk back to my car, turn the ignition, radio comes on, and I hear that Barrack Obama was the President-elect on the 2008 election.

I can’t put into words what I felt that day. I remember calling my friends and my grandparents and feeling on top of the world. Yes, I voted for Obama and he was my preferred candidate but it was way deeper than that. For the first time in my life, I saw someone who looked like me be elected to the highest office in the land. This was more than a simple political statement. This was a statement to all little children of color that they have a place in this country.

Being a person of color in the USA, you often feel like a visitor in your own homeland. It often feels like nothing is meant for you. The majority of the leadership is white, the vast majority of what you see on TV or in the magazines were white, and in Texas, most people weren’t shy about reminding you how different you are. You often question whether you even have a shot at making it. You wonder why very few people who look like you are in boardrooms or politics or anywhere else. I mean, I have met MANY black people who were as qualified if not more so than many white men.

Seeing this barrier get torn down didn’t solve racism, but it opened up possibilities. It gave me hope that the world was getting better and opportunities were opening up. It also made me feel like, maybe, just maybe, the country was getting more tolerant.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

I am sitting on my couch and browsing Reddit. I, like everyone else, spent the past few days with the AP News website up, refreshing the page every hour to see what changed. I wanted to look at goofy pictures to get my mind off of the election, after all, it’s the weekend. Who would be counting votes now? Then, I got a notification from the Wall Street Journal app.

Joe Biden was now the projected President-Elect of the USA. I was thrilled for dozens of reasons but one really stuck out to me. Kamala Harris is the first Black VP, the first South Asian VP, the first woman VP and she is a super minority mix as well. I sat and thought about all the barriers that broke that day. And make no mistake, she did not ride on the coat tails of Joe Biden. She is an extremely competent and credentialed woman who was chosen due to her skillset and personality and worked hard on the campaign trail.

I felt the same joy that I felt 12 years prior. However, this time, I realized that there was even more happening here. I watched live as she and Biden gave their victory speeches. I saw black girls, white girls, girls in hijabs, Asian girls, etc. all looking at her in awe. Women of all ages, some breaking down in tears. Just like that, two major barriers were broken.

Women were able to see a woman ascend to that position. A glass ceiling has been broken (though I acknowledge that there are many more to go). But also, women of color got to see someone succeed in national politics in a way never seen before.

Now I am not here to argue about who has it worse, white women or women of color but there are a few facts that need to be pointed out. Being a woman of color is like being a “double minority”. Women of color see less support in the workplace, were more disproportionately effect by COVID, Black and Latin women get paid less than white women, are often more subject to sexual harassment in the workplace and a slew of other issues too long to list here.

Seeing a woman of color overcome the odds was a major victory. On top of that, she is dual minority and the daughter of immigrants. If this isn’t an American story, I don’t know what is.

Being Multiracial

Another similarity that I saw between Obama and Harris on the campaign trail was the questioning of their identity. NPR’s “Code Switch” had a podcast all about her identity. When you are mixed race, you see a lot of questions raised about identity. Social media started questioning whether she was “really Black” since her father was Jamaican. This reminded me of people claiming that Obama wasn’t really Black because he grew up with white grandparents in the Midwest.

We even saw some racist birther arguments come to play again. This time they weren’t even contesting whether or not she was born in America. They were arguing that she wasn’t American because her parents were immigrants. The Fourteenth Amendment would disagree with that argument.

Being multiracial is interesting. People often want to categorize you in simple, binary terms. You are only “one thing”. Are you black enough, are you Asian enough? Are you either? What are you really? Can you claim Asian heritage if you don’t look Asian? Can you claim Black heritage if you don’t look very Black? People seem to want to put people into a nice, understandable box but unfortunately, this ignores the fluidity of identification.

One can be half Black and support Black causes and appreciate Black culture and history while also doing the same for their Asian heritage and identity. Many mixed people also exist in this third category of being who you want to be and defining your own identity.

The fact that in 2020 we are still having these dated conversations is kind of sad. However, having a Multiracial person as a VP may start the conversation again and allow us to break out of these antiquated definitions.

The Road Ahead

Interracial marriage has been on the rise. This, naturally, is resulting in around 14% of U.S. infants born in 2015 were multiracial/multiethnic. This is only 15 years after the US Census finally allowed people to identify as multiracial.

The USA is changing. More and more people are identifying as mixed-race, multiracial, etc. We need to break out of these old mindsets around race and identity and allow people to be who they want to be. With a powerful woman like Kamala as VP, I think we can start having more conversations about race, identity, and what it means to be American.