As I write, there are fireworks whistling and crackling just outside of my bedroom window, signaling a new beginning for the United States of America. I envisage the red, white and blue lights illuminating a once-somber black sky, casting hope, far and wide. Today, November 7th, 2020, is momentous for many reasons, but, for now, I will highlight just one: After an enduring battle, we have shattered a significant glass ceiling.
Kamala Harris stepped into history tonight, as the United States’ first woman and woman of color vice-president elect. Politics aside, this is a landmark victory for women around the world, notably for those who are consistently overlooked and chronically underrepresented. While this shattered barrier is long overdue, reaching this pivotal moment was nonetheless an uphill battle. Throughout her candidacy, Harris faced endless sexist and racist binds. Following the Vice-Presidential debate, Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, aptly stated, “She had to prove last night that she was qualified to be president of the United States. And that’s one of the challenges that women do face in a different way than men … there is an assumption of qualifications that are given to men who run for office, and women have to prove their qualifications. Unfortunately, this is still the case for women, and especially with that racist trope of the angry Black woman, it’s particularly complicated for a woman of color.” Despite exhausting and overbearing double-standards, Harris prevailed, with her name on the ticket winning the most votes in the history of the United States of America.
In her acceptance speech, Harris paid homage to the many women that came before her. Just a few months ago, we celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the United States following years of fervent and arduous advocacy from women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells. We also commemorated the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which ensured that the voices of the disenfranchised women who were left behind by the suffrage movement, were heard. In her historic speech, Harris said, “Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.”
This is a moment that these women who came before us perhaps only imagined. Harris paid tribute to her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, when she inspirationally vowed “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.” Starting today, women and girls will see a woman, and by that, a woman of color, in one of the highest positions in the world, as a tangible possibility as opposed to an elusive, optimistic dream. In this year alone, we have seen a historic number of women elected to Congress on both sides of the aisle, the first woman appointed to lead a major U.S. bank, countless women in STEM leading the efforts to develop a Coronavirus vaccine, and an astronaut casting her ballot from outer space. Our daughters and sons will grow up with more women and more diverse women in their history books than ever before. But we cannot stop fighting until these women are no longer anomalies or aberrations. Until the word “woman” is no longer needed as a descriptor before their esteemed title.
Sexism and racism are still rampant forces around the world, and today’s victory does not change this bitter truth. Nor does it change the daunting reality that violence against women remains widespread, there is still a gender pay gap, and a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is hanging by a thread. It does, however, give us hope. Hope that love trumps hate. Hope that we are stronger united than we are divided. Hope that the elusive glass ceiling will one day, be shattered, once and for all. It won’t be an easy fight, as our predecessors have illustrated. But it will surely be worthwhile. So, today we exhale, and we celebrate. Starting tomorrow, we get to work.