I am in first grade. Brightly colored paper, the scent of freshly sharpened colored pencils, and the boisterous laughter of my classmates fill my classroom. We are making Mother’s Day cards and are supposed to fill the page with a sweet letter to our moms. But I sit at my desk, frozen, unsure who to address the letter to.
“Dear Amma,” I scrawl, then look around.
“Dear Mom,” is the most common, sitting proudly at the top of almost every page. Classmates all around me write to the moms or mamas, but I am slowly becoming aware that the first word out of my mouth, the word I have used to call for help and comfort, is different. There is no “Amma” to be found, no homage to strong and stern hand that packs my backpack and lunchbox and tells me to study hard, and for the first time, I feel alone in my difference.
I look back to my scrawny words, scribbled at the top of my letter, and erase them.
“Dear Mama,” I write, painfully aware of the wrongness, and almost ashamed of a word that has protected me for so long.
There are thousands of stories like mine. Stories of little brown South Asian girls who feel afraid to eat their rice and curries and get mocked for the pungent smell that sticks to their clothes. Stories of little brown South Asian girls who reckon with the feeling of difference and feel like there is only one path. Stories of little brown South Asian girls who are trapped by their gender and brown skin. We are the thousands of women whose experiences are reflected in the Democratic nominee for Vice President, Kamala Harris.
Harris was raised by her single Tamil mother, who had come to the United States by herself at age 19. Her mother met her Jamaican father when they were graduate students at UC Berkeley and through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement in Oakland. She would raise Harris as a single mother after they divorced and would juggle her career as a breast cancer researcher with motherhood.
Harris remembers that her mother would often tell her and her sister Maya not to “just sit around and complain about things, [but to] [d]o something.” She speaks of this fondly, in her first speech as the vice-presidential nominee. “So, I did something,” she says. “I devoted my life to making real the words carved in the United States’ Supreme Court: equal justice under law. And 30 years ago, I stood before a judge for the first time, breathed deep, and uttered the phrase that would truly guide my career […], Kamala Harris for the people.”
It’s no surprise that Harris is the vice-presidential nominee. Her biracial identity brings a diverse perspective, and her story plays into the great legend of America. The union of two immigrants, her mother and father, from vastly different backgrounds on opposite sides of the world, who came to pursue a better education, tell us of what America aspires to be. As Harris breaks barriers for women of color, fellow Americans look to them to rejoice that someone who shares our experiences has become a part of the national conversation. And we celebrate that a strong woman of color has a place at the table, but not without a grain of salt.
We cannot celebrate Senator Harris for breaking glass ceilings for women of color without acknowledging her contradictory record as a prosecutor. Additionally, her ascent to becoming the vice-presidential nominee does not allow Americans to congratulate themselves without recognizing the racist, sexist, and demeaning harassment that has followed.
Before Senator Harris became the Junior Senator for California, she served as the Attorney General for the state and the district attorney of San Francisco. As a prosecutor, Harris’s record is hard to pin down as either tough on crime or a reformer of the criminal justice system. She defended California’s death penalty in court but refused to seek it against a man that killed a police officer. She both kept the wrongfully imprisoned in jail and pushed programs to help people get jobs and stay out of prison. Additionally, she implemented training for police officers on racial biases but did not investigate certain police shootings. Contradictions mire Harris’s record and make it confusing for progressives and people of color to support her.
However, as a senator, Harris is shown to be supportive of multiple criminal justice reform goals. In Harris’s criminal justice reform plan, she offered a rebuke to critics when she supported abolishing discriminatory mandatory minimum sentencing and stopping private prisons. She endorsed the First Step Act, and proposed nationwide bail reform as a US Senator. It seems that Harris is taking steps forward to make amends and reform a system that has repeatedly put down people of color and lower-income families.
Senator Harris’s record is not the only thing we must acknowledge before we congratulate ourselves. Within the week it was announced that Senator Harris would be the vice-presidential nominee, President Trump had already thrown birther accusations at her. These accusations remain acutely similar to those former President Barack Obama weathered for most of his presidency. These accusations are blatant forms of racism levied against any person of color standing for a national office. While John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, he faced little scrutiny when he ran for president in 2008, his opponent, Barack Obama, was often accused of birtherism despite being born in Hawaii. Senator Harris, who was born in Oakland, California, has faced critics attempting to disassemble her Americanness, her blackness, and every other facet of her identity.
Additionally, even before announced as Biden’s VP pick, Harris dealt with double standards influenced by her gender. Former Senator Chris Dodd, complained to a donor that Harris had shown “no remorse” for her significant blow against Biden in the first Democratic debate. Dodd’s logic, that disagreement with a political opponent was a fatal quality in a potential vice-president would have eliminated George H.W Bush as Reagan’s vice president, who often staunchly and directly disagreed with him when running for the Republican nomination. The implication that women, specifically women of color, cannot challenge an opponent without it being held against them, plays into the belief that ambitious women are detrimental to men. This belief was also widely used to propagate harmful misinformation about Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Harris is a significant step forward, from the perspective of breaking the glass ceiling. She manages to unite moderate Democrats to the more progressive views of her younger colleagues. She has adapted to change and learned from her mistakes. Her prosecutor record may be contradictory, but as a senator, she has consistently shown support for issues that matter to people of color. But Americans cannot pat themselves on the shoulder just yet. She remains a reminder for the little brown South Asian girls, like me, that people who look like us are treated as if they are not American. She remains a reminder that women like us are accused of being “too ambitious.” And she remains a reminder that women who look like us must fight harder for any claim to leadership. But, as Kamala Harris’s mother said, we cannot “just sit around and complain.” We must continue the fight. We must “do something.”
Sources & More Information
|Source Article||More information|
|Patriot Act||The Patriot Act - Interview with Kamala Harris on Covid-19 & The Election Patriot Clip|
|CBS interview||CBS News - Kamala Harris & the Political Rise of Indian-Americans CBS Clip|
|Vox Perspective||Vox - Kamala Harris’s Controversial Record on Criminal Justice, Explained|
|Do Something||San Francisco Chronicle - Kamala Harris shaped by Berkeley and a ‘do something’ mother|
|Politico isn’t sold||Politico - ‘She had no remorse’: Why Kamala Harris isn’t a lock for VP|
|Formidable competitor||Essence - Opinion: Kamala Harris Shouldn’t Have To Apologize For Being A Formidable Competitor|
|Washington Post||The Washington Post - Trump promotes false claim that Harris might not be a natural-born U.S. citizen|
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