| By Tracey Matthews |
With the media frenzy of the 2020 presidential election and rising cases of COVID-19 across the nation, let’s not forget to celebrate the phenomenal moment in U.S. history when the FIRST woman, FIRST Black American, and FIRST Indian American was elected to the second-highest office of the nation.
The election of Vice President-elect (and my Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister) Kamala Harris holds special significance to me as a woman—and as a Black woman. It is important for all Americans to see a representation of themselves in the people that serve this country. Like me and many others who look like me were told and believed: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Born to immigrant parents of Indian and Jamaican heritage, Harris’s upbringing is the very essence of the American dream. Her parents’ involvement in the 1960s civil rights movement ignited her passion to protect civil liberties and ultimately led her to choose a career in law. Harris has broken many barriers throughout her career in law and politics. She was the first Black American and first woman to be elected San Francisco district attorney in 2003 and state attorney general in 2010. In 2016, she became the second Black woman and first South Asian elected to the Senate. On November 7, 2020, Harris was named vice president-elect of the United States alongside her running mate, President-elect Joe Biden. With the win, she will become the first woman, first African American, and first South Asian American to serve as vice president of a major political party.
Harris’s victory is a long time in the making and, among others, she credits women activists who came before her. “All the women who worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century: 100 years ago with the 19th Amendment; 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act; and now, in 2020, with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard,” she declared in her victory speech on November 7.
Harris also called out Black women specifically. “Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty, and justice for all, including the Black women, who are too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.” She follows a legacy of women, like Shirley Chisolm, the first African American and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, and unsung suffragists and political activists, including Ida B. Wells, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Mary Church Terrell.
Harris’s rise to vice president-elect is due in part to efforts made by Black women’s long-standing activism and support of the Democratic Party, as well as being one of the most dependable voting blocs. A new generation of Black women has ushered in a renewed vigor to protect voting rights and increase voter registration and turnout—women like Stacey Abrams, who is largely credited for the unprecedented voter turnout in Georgia; LaTosha Brown, cofounder of the Black Voters Matter Fund; and Nikema Williams, who won Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which was formerly represented by John Lewis until his passing.
Let’s pause for a moment in this tumultuous year and celebrate Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s historic achievement—and thank all the women who paved the way to make this accomplishment possible. As Harris noted in her victory speech: “But while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way others may not, simply because they have never seen it before.”
Read about Kamala Harris and other trailblazing women in Gale In Context: Biography.