After several long days of awaiting results, the news finally broke: Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States, alongside Vice President Michael Pence, would not see another term in office. Finally he surrendered his turbulent four year Republican reign to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Immediately, several individuals took to social media to celebrate the victory, congratulating Biden and thanking the millions of voters who had ‘made their voice heard’ and increased voter turnout, breaking a 120-year old record (with estimations of an extra 20 million votes since the 2016 Presidential election). But this was not the only victory being celebrated as many focused their congratulations towards new VP Harris, remarking how monumental and historic it was for her to not only become the first female VP, but also female VP of colour with Asian heritage.
Harris – identifying herself as a biracial African American woman – was born in Oakland, California, to two later divorced immigrant parents - her mother of Indian heritage and her father of Jamaican. Growing up with her mother, Harris speaks on the combined cultural upbringing she experienced, embracing both her Indian culture and recognising the fact that living in America she was seen, politically, as a black woman.
Studying Political Science and Economics at a HBCU and then Law at Howard University, Harris graduated and began her career as District Attorney before becoming Attorney General of California years before she would run alongside Biden on the 2020 Democratic Presidential ticket. But alongside the congratulations, the victory dances and Mindy Kaling’s “baby, look she looks like us”, there were several hot takes and criticisms with Twitter users claiming, colloquially, “representation politics is killing my people”, referencing articles which revealed a much less appealing side of Harris with controversial rulings under her previous roles.
In 2003, and in the several years that followed, Harris won the title “top-cop” for her ‘tough on crime’ attitude and the harsh measures she enacted within the communities she served. In 2011, under her Truancy bill, parents could be prosecuted if their children missed more than 10% of school days, a bill which came under much scrutiny. In 2013, when a judge reversed the conviction of Daniel Larsen (who had been wrongfully sentenced to 27 years in prison), Harris’ office rejected the release on the grounds that his paperwork had been filed too late. In the years in between she fought to release fewer prisoners (against a Supreme Court ruling that Californian prisons were dangerous and overcrowded), she opposed Proposition K (a measure aimed to decriminalise sex work) and voiced her lack of support for incarcerated Trans prisoners in need of gender affirming care.
As a biracial, black woman myself I thought that seeing a fellow black woman alongside the President would be peak representation. You would think it could not get better than that. So what do you do when the first female, black Vice President is not as progressive as you would like? The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
On the one hand, it is important to identify the significance of Harris’ position in US politics and how it is monumentally historic that she is where she is today. Regardless of your own politics and personal thoughts, it would be inaccurate to say that the very existence of both someone biracial and female this close to Presidency is not a giant leap within itself. From surviving the past four years of an openly sexist, misogynistic, and racist President, a female black VP is very much the breath of fresh air that America needs.
Yet it is equally important to also recognise that representation is not always enough. Yes, she may tick off the same diversity quotas as me but if she doesn’t care about issues that are fundamental to basic human rights and continues to enact policies that harm the most vulnerable communities - is she really the hero everyone is claiming her to be? Whilst representation is affirming and very much needed, we cannot casually use it to excuse the faults of politicians simply due to their contribution to representation politics. We cannot blindly follow her. She too needs to be held to account and scrutinised for her controversial choices and decisions. As for me, I’m not really sure if I'm celebrating the first female black Vice President or whether I’m still too sceptical about her far-from-progressive past. So for now, I’ll be reserving all judgement, sitting back and waiting to see how her next four years play out.
Credit pictures: GettyImages
Written by Shantelle Chissell-Davis