Kamala Harris: Soaring Through the Glass Ceiling

Watching Kamala Harris take the stage on the 7th November marked a momentous milestone in history and reminded us of Hillary Clinton’s own hopes of claiming victory four years ago. This was a victory for Ms Harris in several ways, as the first woman, the first African American and the first Asian American to be elected to executive office in the US. She has taken a key role in shattering prejudicial ideals for young girls and women all around the world, marking an end to the Trump-era and sending shockwaves throughout the country. While it’s undeniably true that women’s rights still have a long way to go, 2020 will be reminisced as the year that many little girls found their motivation to make something of themselves. It is important to reflect on Ms Harris’ journey as a woman in politics when celebrating her recent achievements in the US election.

we did it joe election sign Photo by Jon Tyson from Unsplash

Born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Ms Harris was raised as the daughter of two academics passionately involved in the civil rights movement. This led to her interest in politics as she attended Howard University; a historically African American college, then went on to study law in California. From the year of 2003, she served as district attorney for San Francisco, was elected as attorney-general in California, then was finally elected to the US Senate. Her impressively long list of qualifications made her an excellent candidate as Mr Biden’s vice-presidential nomination and strayed from the long-standing tradition of ill-qualified white men being elected to power in politics.

 

Kamala Harris visting King Elementary School in Des Moines Photo by Phil Roeder from Flickr

Ms Harris’ identity as a Black Asian American woman is often discussed, in particular prompting seemingly absurd questions regarding her US citizenship and her eligibility for vice presidency. Drawing comparison to the conspiracy theories arising in 2008 questioning Barack Obama’s eligibility for presidency, it is a shame to realise that many remain as ignorant and unaccepting of diversity and inclusion as in the US election 12 years ago. In hopes that the right to non-discrimination will one day be enjoyed equally on a global scale, perhaps we can wake up happier in the morning knowing that something has changed for the better.

 

The most important figure of inspiration in Ms Harris’ life is her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a biomedical scientist who passed away in 2009. As shared in a tweet by Ms Harris, she quoted her mother’s own words “Don’t just sit around and complain about things. Do something.” It comes as no surprise that this motivated her relentless ambition to take on a more active role in enacting wider systemic change, in order to remedy the challenges that she faced from society and from her government.

 

Ms Harris often speaks about the support she received from her mother who had been “one of the very few women of colour in science”, as she previously stated in an interview with The New Yorker. In a tear-jerking speech prior to being selected as running mate, she proudly announced that “because of who my mother was and what she believed, what she had the ability to dream was possible and then work to make possible, the fact that my mother never asked anyone permission to tell her what was possible is why, within one generation, I stand here as a serious candidate for president of the United States.” Ms Harris demonstrated an acute awareness that the opportunities we have today must be credited to the efforts of our past generations of women. To pay respect to the women who have fought for the rights we may take for granted in the 21st century, we must not limit our dreams and ambitions in an act of meaningless self-rejection.

 

Reflecting upon the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated field, it is clear that the world has become a very different place from when the fight for female suffrage first gained prominence in the late 1800’s. Considering that the first general election in which women could vote in the UK happened in 1929, Ms Harris’ win shows that while progress can take time, we must continue fighting for equality by setting our expectations high – high enough to burst through the glass ceiling. She sets an example for us all that what once may have seemed to be a pipedream can indeed become a reality.

 

While the US election is clearly not enough to offset the imbalances faced by women on a daily basis, Ms Harris’s experiences and success signify a change that shows we are moving in the right direction with women like her in government. There is now more hope that bigotry and prejudice will be confronted with open dialogue and accepting values. Hopefully, we can all look forward to a society that is more honest and more willing to hear the voices of women everywhere.

 

Words By: Anthea Pei

Edited By: Caroline Rauch