Following the announcement that Joe Biden has won enough electoral votes required to secure the presidency, it appears he will be our next president. And alongside him, Kamala Harris will make history: Not only will she become the first woman in U.S. history to assume the role of vice-president, she’ll also be the first Black woman and the first person of South Asian descent to do so.
It will be hugely, historically significant to see a woman of color in this role. Since the office of the vice-president was created 232 years ago, it has been occupied exclusively by white men, and only two other women have even been nominated for VP on a major-party ticket: Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. In many ways, Harris’s nomination this year was a sign that Establishment Democrats are at least nominally aware of the influence that women — and especially Black women — hold within the party. (Biden picked her after publicly pledging to select a female running mate.) Her win also serves as a rebuke to those who’d argue that you cannot succeed with a woman at the top of the ticket.
During the campaign, Harris weathered relentless sexist and racist attacks. Trump targeted her frequently, stoking absurd, baseless conspiracy theories that she isn’t really a U.S. citizen because her parents are immigrants, and hurling demeaning epithets at her, calling her “the meanest,” “nasty,” “disrespectful,” and, during a particularly manic appearance on Fox Business, a “monster.” Throughout all this, Harris continued to wear her identity proudly, frequently paying tribute to the Black women who helped pave the way for her. “That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me,” she said at the Democratic National Convention, where she formally accepted her nomination for vice-president. “Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all.”
Even before clinching the veep nomination, Harris’s career was defined by firsts: She was the first woman and the first person of color to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney, and the first to serve as California attorney general. She was the second Black woman elected to the Senate, and the first person of South Asian descent. “Here’s the thing: Every office I’ve run for I was the first to win,” she told the The New Yorker last year. “First person of color. First woman. First woman of color. Every time.”
Of course, simply having a woman in power doesn’t mean that all women will inherently benefit from her mere presence — and Harris has faced harsh criticism for her work as a prosecutor, including her choices to incarcerate people for marijuana-related offenses, pursue measures that sex workers say endangered them, and deny gender-affirming health care to trans inmates. But she has also championed policies promoting racial and reproductive justice, and introduced legislation to combat the U.S.’s staggering racial disparities in maternal mortality; and, before she became Biden’s running mate, she publicly and satisfyingly took him to task over his record on race.
Speaking of her life motto during a lecture at Spelman College in 2018, Harris said, “My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’ And that’s part of why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us.”