EDITORIAL: A ‘monumental moment’: What a Kamala Harris vice presidency means for young POC

Harris is next in line for the presidency, and that is a symbol of hope for many women of color. 

Herald Editorial Board

Issue: Kamala Harris was elected as the 49th vice president-elect of the United States of America, making her the first female vice president, first Black vice president and first Asian-American vice president.

Our stance: Harris’ firsts are more than just historical — they are an indication to the young women and people of color of this country that barriers are being broken and the future is theirs to take.

On Nov. 7, the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, giving him the electoral college votes needed to reach the 270 to win. Consequently, Kamala Harris became the vice president-elect that night — the first female vice president in American history.

Harris is not only the first female vice president, but she is also the first Black vice president and the first Asian-American vice president. She is a stepping stone for many underrepresented Americans.

“I was born in South Korea but have lived in the U.S. my whole life,” psychological sciences junior Mia Kendrick said. “Although I see myself as simply an American, I’ve had many encounters where others see me as a foreigner in my own home. With the newly elected vice president, Kamala Harris, I’m hoping that the traditional image of an American will change as our representatives have grown to become more diverse.”

Americans have been governed by a white executive since 1789 when George Washington and John Adams assumed the presidency and vice presidency. It wasn’t until Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 that representation truly began to change.

“Kamala Harris being the first African-American Asian woman vice president is life-changing for so many girls including myself,” freshman journalism and broadcasting major Brianna Cooks said. “Growing up as a girl and in the minority race I never saw someone on TV or in a position of authority that I could look up to. Kamala Harris gives me encouragement and hopefully other young girls of color and other races.”

America, which is 76.3% White, 13.4% Black or African-American, and 5.9% Asian, only began to see more diverse representation in the White House after more than two centuries of white representation. Harris’ vice presidency is a historical moment for the Black and Asian populations, as well as the 50.8% of Americans who are female.

“I would say it’s definitely been a long time coming finally having a woman serving in one of the highest positions of power in the country,” psychology and criminology junior Morgan Porter said. “It’s a great reminder to all women, despite whether you voted for her or not and despite how society may make us feel sometimes, we are so powerful and we can do literally anything we put our minds to.”

Harris was born in Oakland, California, and graduated from Howard University, making her also the first vice president to assume office who attended a historically black college. She was the district attorney of San Francisco, the attorney general of California and a U.S. Senator.

Her parents, however, are immigrants.

Shyamala Gopalan Harris, Harris’ mother, is an immigrant from South India. Harris’ father, Donald Harris, is an immigrant from Jamaica. This makes Harris the first biracial vice president, too.

“Kamala Harris’ election to vice president is a pretty monumental moment for the United States,” senior English literature major Olivia Allen said. “Her win is especially historic as the first woman of color in that position, and I believe she has the ability to positively impact young Black girls specifically who rarely get to see themselves represented in positions of power.”

Harris’ victory as vice president signals a change in American politics, especially after President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory against Hillary Clinton, the first female nominee from a major political party in American politics.

Harris is next in line for the presidency, and that is a symbol of hope for many women of color. 

“Now we have someone to look up to and we know that if she did it we can too,” Cooks said.

Harris’s presidential campaign, which ended in 2019, was not met by enthusiasm for a lot of Democratic women because of her record as attorney general, in which she avoided getting involved in police brutality cases in California.

“As a woman entering a legal career, Harris’ win is bittersweet for me,” Allen said. “Although I voted Biden-Harris, Harris’ prosecutorial history is alarming to me, and it is something that we should not ignore simply because she’s a woman. I do think Harris has an opportunity now to right some wrongs and do genuine good, and I really hope we get to see some more progressive policies coming from her office in 2021.”

Further, Harris is met with more scrutiny for her past as attorney general, in which she actively refused a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce overpopulation in California’s prisons, according to Prospect.

“For me, Kamala Harris is a bit of a double-edged sword,” freshman international affairs and economics double major Tani Washington said. “Her time as attorney general expanded the discriminatory prison complex, but her presence as a woman of color also represents a tide turning in American politics. I see her as a stepping stone for women who look like me to enter into government.”

Harris’ vice presidency is “an opportunity to begin truly bettering the lives of marginalized people,” Washington said.

Harris has since then actively advocated against systemic racism in America, even going as far as supporting police reform in the Senate in 2020.

Regardless of her oscillating political policies, just her presence in the White House gives many women the inspiration to continue defying societal stereotypes.

“I feel as though having a woman in such a high position will help our nation realize that someone’s gender doesn’t determine what type of job they can have,” Kendrick said.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated into the White House on Jan. 20, at which point Harris’ policies will truly be put to the test of the American people. Regardless of her performance as vice president, Harris is and will always be known as the first woman of color of the United States, defying the walls that have been built to discourage women from assuming positions of power.

“Now we have someone to look up to and we know that if she did it we can too,” Cooks said.