It is always tough to be the first. To be the trailblazer. To scale the mountaintop. To be the first to open the door. To shatter the glass ceiling. But for Senator Kamala Devi Harris of California, like so many amazing Black and brown women before her—Sojourner, Harriet, Ida, Rosa, Shirley, and Barbara—has been doing it her entire life.
When she announced her run for the presidency in January 2019, she drew the largest crowd of all her rivals, yet she did not have the backing of her own state’s senior senator, a woman she admires, Senator Dianne Feinstein. She was told time and time again in her life, “wait your turn.” Or “it’s not yet your time.” Or “you can’t win.” Yet, like her forebears, she persisted. When she reached for that highest glass ceiling, her sexual past as a young woman with a once revered mentor was splattered about. Her record as a prosecutor questioned. Her loyalty to the Black community questioned. People had doubts about this very attractive, very smart, very capable woman who married late in life, is now a stepmother of two, with no biological children of her own. Like me, and literally legions of professional Black women she is a “PANK”—Professional Aunt No Kids. Like many of us, she sacrificed a lot to get where she is.
Despite it all, she persisted, she kept her head up, and she remained steadfastly resilient as a senator standing up for social justice, economic justice, and equal justice. For families facing evictions and joblessness due to the COVID-19 crisis. For justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black lives lost at the hands of overzealous, seemingly racially biased law enforcement, usually with little or no consequence.
And when she ended her presidential campaign in December, it seemed as if her bright light had dimmed just a little, and her political fortunes had stalled. Many wrote her off as “too shallow,” “unfocused on policy,” or just a “pretty face” who due to internal staffing problems and mismanagement could not even make it to the Democratic primaries, after raising over $35 million dollars.
When she was called “too ambitious” by white male power brokers inside the Democratic party, she took to inspiring young Black women on a video chat to in fact be ambitious, and to never settle for just what people thought they should have. She challenged them to be brave. And to follow their wildest and most cherished dreams despite the limitations of their birth, gender, or race. It looked as if the “old boys” had finally cancelled Kamala, and she would just fade quietly away—much like how Shirley Chisholm was never really considered for the vice presidential slot after her historic run for the presidency in 1972.
The tide of history turned, however, on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.
The hard work. The perseverance. The internal strength. The groundwork laid by unseen giants who fought for Black women to finally have a seat at the table paid off. Not just for Kamala Harris but for Black and brown women and girls everywhere around the globe. Finally, after 240 plus years, a Black woman had broken the second highest glass ceiling in American politics, the nod for a major party run at the vice presidency. Harris joined an exclusive, heretofore all white, elite club, one that had only allowed two other women in before her: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and Sarah Palin in 2008.
I am rarely at a loss for words. But how do you describe a once-in-two centuries event? How do you describe the breaking down of hurtful stereotypes and tropes that have dogged Black women since we arrived here enslaved in 1619 in Virginia? How do you describe the earth finally shifting under your feet in a way that positions you to soar? You can’t.
When all is said and done, Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate is more than historic; it is an act of deep faith in America. It is heroic. Why heroic? Because Joe Biden understands the moment we are in as Americans. He understands that he is standing at the twilight of his career, not at the beginning. He understands that the soul of our nation and the pulse of the republic is on the line. He made the hard choice. To choose a former rival. And turn her into a running mate.
The senator from Delaware who served eight years as vice president to the nation’s first Black president chose change and overdue fidelity to his party’s most loyal constituency: Black women. Biden demonstrated his courage and his confidence in the America he loves. By picking Harris, he in effect anointed our nation’s first woman executive, and maybe, in four years, our nation’s first female president.
For me, as a fifty-something-year-old professional Black woman and as an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman, I could not be prouder of what I have lived to see. I wept. My sorority sisters wept. Elderly Black women in churches wept. Women from all walks of life wept, celebrated and cheered for this moment. Because we all know that the times, they are a changin’. And that we are one step closer to shattering the highest glass ceiling of them all.