On Nov. 7, news sources began to call the 2020 presidential election for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. I was excited — elated, even. They were my pick, and like many Americans I had been closely following the election for days as I nervously anticipated the results.
However, I was caught off guard by my strong emotional response to their win.
Biden, while being an experienced politician and a likable guy, wasn’t my first pick for president, nor was he for many of my peers. After securing the Democratic nomination in the spring, the phrase “settle for Biden” became plastered across social media, as many young adults such as myself saw him simply as a tool for ridding the White House of President Donald Trump.
I don’t agree with many of his stances on different political issues. I think Biden should be tougher on issues of police brutality and climate change, among many others. And being completely honest, my emotional response to him winning the election had little to do with him.
I found my eyes swelling with tears and my heart aching with joy because of Harris.
Growing Up Female
Growing up in the United States, little girls, just like little boys, are told that they can be whatever they want. They are taught to dream big, because this is a country of equality and opportunity. However, it’s difficult to dream of doing something you’ve never seen a woman do.
Victoria Stephens-Carr, a senior political science major at Southern Utah University and member of The Leavitt Center leadership team, expressed this same point.
“I remember growing up, and as women we have always heard you can do anything. You can be an astronaut, you can be president, you can do anything you put your mind to,” Stephens-Carr shared. “But there was always kind of this thought in my mind of, ‘Okay you’re saying I can be president, but it’s never happened before.’”
I, and many women, did not grow up seeing women in positions of authority. The examples of powerful women were few and far between. We wanted to grow up to be someone powerful, but it is hard to fill shoes that we’ve never seen women wear before.
Harris is changing that.
After 48 vice presidents over the last 231 years who were all white men, a woman of color will now hold that position. Even regardless of gender, Harris will be the first Black and south Asian person to serve in this position. Harris is shattering the glass ceiling that has barred women, and especially women of color, from places of power for too long.
“She’s literally the blueprint to women’s political possibility and now she is stepping literally into the Oval Office and she’s going to put an intersectional lens on everything this administration does,” Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights of America, told the Associated Press.
The Glass Ceiling
The glass ceiling is a metaphorical barrier that prevents different groups such as women and people of color from achieving success. While no woman has broken through and become a president or vice president in the United States until Harris, it has been cracked before.
Just four years ago, Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee for president and won the popular vote, almost making her the first female U.S. president. Eight years before that, Sarah Palin ran alongside the Republican presidential nominee John McCain, almost claiming the title of first female vice president for herself.
However, neither of these women, nor those who came before them, were able to secure a place in the most powerful positions in the United States.
“The simple answer for why [we’ve never had a woman president or vice president] is sexism,” Stephens-Carr shared. “In 2016, I think Hillary Clinton was awesome. I think she was way, way qualified for the job, and in retrospect it is absolutely insane that this qualified, well-educated woman lost to a TV show host. It just doesn’t really add up.”
Women are treated and viewed differently than men in elections, and unfortunately that has caused qualified candidates to be overlooked.
It’s a wonderful coincidence, or as Stephens-Carr shared a “long time coming,” that Harris secured this win exactly 100 years after the 19th Amendment passed, which gave women the right to vote.
Women’s rights activists pointed out that the night the race was called when Harris crossed the stage to speak to the American people wearing a white suit, her outfit was much more than a fashion choice.
Women have been constantly demeaned for what they wear in ways that men often aren’t, but that night Harris took her power back with that white suit.
White has become a powerful color symbolizing women’s suffrage, as an attempt to show that women who fight for equality and power are still beautiful and pure. Wearing white is a way that women elected and nominated to powerful positions in the United States stand in solidarity with the women who came before them and made their positions possible.
“Harris… was standing on the shoulder of Shirley Chisholm, who wore white as she became the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968. She was standing on the shoulders of Geraldine Ferraro, who wore all-white to accept the role of Walter Mondale’s running mate in his 1984 presidential campaign. She was standing on the shoulders of Hillary Clinton, who wore a signature white pantsuit to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016,” CNN journalist Oscar Holland wrote.
And Harris’ win is possible because of the American people who voted for her — especially people of color, and especially Black women. Black women were not even fully secured the right to vote until the 1970s due to racist prejudices and laws across the country.
91% of Black women voters voted for Biden and Harris, which was the highest percentage of any racial group. In fact, only 55% of white women cast their vote for the two.
“Kamala Harris’ election signals that the face of leadership does change, that we do have a role to play beyond being supporters and advocates and adjutants that we can be the leaders of this country and I think it is an exceptional moment that we are experiencing in this country,” Stacey Abrams, a Black politician and activist that was integral in making Georgia’s vote majority Democrat, shared with CNN.
Harris’ win is monumental, and a wonderful and emotional step forward for women and people of color. Representation matters, and this victory, and what it means to those watching her, deserves to be celebrated.
But it doesn’t fix sexism and racism, along with other issues rampant in the United States.
“One Black woman—historic, dope, progressive, passionate and competent, though she is—is not a sufficient salve for the festering wounds of American racism and sexism,” wrote Brittany Cooper, a professor at Rutgers University, for Time.
In fact, being a woman of color does not make Harris a perfect politician. I don’t agree with many of her decisions she has made in her political past. Her history as a prosecutor especially has come to light in recent months in wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and push against police brutality.
Just as any other politician, we will need to hold her accountable as she serves as vice president and offer up criticism when appropriate. And even if we don’t love everything Harris has done, we can still wholeheartedly celebrate this victory and newfound representation in a powerful political position.
“Kamala’s victory is a feminist one. No, she is not a radical feminist decrying capitalism or demanding abolition of prisons. But she did just strike a serious blow to one of patriarchy’s most enduring monuments, America’s previously all-white vice-presidential establishment. She did so as a progressive candidate with a commitment to fighting against racism and sexism in policy and in leadership,” Cooper shared.
The future is bright for women and people of color in the United States. The country has work to do, but I feel hope having a woman of color at the helm as we move forward into a new presidency.
Harris is opening doors for the women who will come after her, and her name will go down in history as the first female and person of color vice president. When I see her picture next to all of the white men who came before her, including Biden, I feel hopeful and excited for the future.
“Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before,” Harris said.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”
Story by: Lainey Cartwright