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Our Next Vice President Is Someone Like Me

As a biracial woman, this is a question I’ve asked myself for most of my life. Do I belong with the Black kids or with the white kids? Do I belong in these clothes or those clothes? Do I belong on TV or magazines? Do I belong in spaces that men do? 

When I was younger, I used to beg my mom to straighten my thick, curly hair. When she did, I would stand in the mirror and smile at myself and pretend I was an actress. I’d say, “I’m Emilia McFerren and you’re watching Disney Channel,” drawing the Mickey silhouette in the air with a marker I imagined was a glow stick. I thought I only belonged on TV when my hair was straight.

That striving to belong didn’t stop with my hair; it crept into every part of my life. I had to convince others that my white cousins and I were actually related. I had to convince the waitress that, yes, my mom and I were on the same bill, even if our skin tones didn’t match. I convinced myself that if I was the perfect student, no one could question if I belonged in my predominantly white Catholic high school. I convinced myself that it didn’t matter what was on the outside, as long as I was true to myself. 

In some ways, I was right. But in others, I was wrong. It does matter what’s on the outside. It matters that I didn’t see myself reflected back at me. Not in movies, not in books, not as the love interest in music videos or the model in magazines. I thought, well if I’m not those things, and I’m not really Black and I’m not really white… what am I? Who can I be, if not those things? 

When introducing me to friends, my grandma used to say I was so smart she wouldn’t be surprised if I was the president of the United States someday. I would smile, but think to myself that I would be surprised if I was the president someday. Women aren't president, I’d think. Especially not women like me. 

My mom and I were on our way to visit family on Saturday, November 7, 2020. We were chatting in the car and I hadn’t checked my phone in a while. When I glanced down, I had several texts from friends and a missed call from my dad. 

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the election.

I screamed. I told my mom. She screamed. We returned my dad’s call and screamed again. We blasted celebratory music and sang Harry Styles’s, “Treat People With Kindness,” Ed Sheeran’s “What Do I Know?” and of course, Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” at the top of our lungs. We screamed some more and hugged and cried when we got to our family’s house. 

We floated on cloud nine for the rest of the weekend. It felt like all at once, things were going to be okay. Not perfect, not fixed, but okay. Better, I hoped, at least. Joe Biden was going to be our next President. More importantly, to me, Kamala Harris was going to be our next Vice President. Kamala was like me: not just a woman, but a biracial woman. Like me, she was not just one thing. Like me, she might have struggled to understand where her unique identity fit into the world. 

When I watched Senator Harris’s victory speech in the days following, I realized something: I realized that perhaps it is not the spaces we learn to fit into that make us. Rather, it’s the spaces we make for ourselves and others like us that truly matter. I may not ever know exactly where I belong (do any of us?), but in the years since I stared in the mirror pretending to be a Disney star, I’ve learned who I am. I know that I am loved, that I am capable, that I carry the legacy of all the women, the Black slaves and the Italian immigrants who came before me. Who fought for me to be in the spaces I am today. Who fought for my ability to make space for myself and others. I know now that I am living Kamala’s legacy, too. Women like Kamala and I may not always know exactly where we belong, but one thing’s for sure: we sure as hell belong in the White House. 

Emilia McFerren

Columbia Barnard '23

Emilia McFerren is a sophomore at Barnard College, studying English and Art History. She loves books, movies, classic and sustainable style, spirituality, and fangirling over One Direction 5 years after their "hiatus". She's an aspiring writer/author, traveler, and activist. If she could have dinner with 5 people, living or dead, she'd choose Audrey Hepburn, Harry Styles, Michelle Obama, Chadwick Boseman, and her grandfather. Reach her at erm2182@barnard.edu or @emiliamcferren on Instagram.
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