Sitting on my mother’s lap as a child, watching her sift through law school textbooks, and combing my hair at the same time, I remember peering at my reflection in her laptop every now and then. I didn’t have her nose or lips, even her ears. But I had her eyes. Big and brown, Indian. Something akin to a vision, some sort of parliamentary-leaning foresight, I knew in sharing these eyes that we wondered who we were together, what we looked like to other people.
I don’t think I let myself dream like the little boys, high-school-aged boys, or college men in my classes through the years. Rather than “let”, I don’t know that the thought ever even occurred to me. They were mostly born to white parents. Few were immigrants or first-generation Americans. Many didn’t like the places my family came from. Where “I’m going to be president someday!” spilled with colorful exuberance and animated panache out of the mouths of the boys I could never quite look like, sound like, or relate to, I marveled quietly at my mother. Indian immigrant. Multi-lingual. Once married to a Pakistani man. Schooling herself into someone who could help people that looked like us thrive in this country rather than crave for it and soon be stunted by the fear of being brown in America.
I never thought to be vice president or president. Even with a lawyer for a mother, something about it felt wrong. Boys are presidents. White boys are presidents. I thought, seeing my skin and Sikh-Muslim, Indian-Pakistani persona on tv labeled “terrorist”, being stop and frisked at fourteen years old, asked by the white boys if there was a bomb in my bag, that my womanhood and brownness was not made to boast itself in a position of power.
Older now, like many brown women, being powerful, political, and precedent-setting is a bountiful prowess borne of years of unlearning the racial and gender supremacy of the US, and actively searching for familiar faces to attach to. Older now, there is someone who looks like us, making history in her presence as she graces the white-stoked walls of The White House – Kamala Harris.
Daughter of a Jamaican Stanford professor and Indian diplomat and cancer researcher, Kamala Harris grew up in evidence that minorities and immigrants are the people who have built this country from the ground up. Harris began her career out of Hastings College as Oakland’s deputy district attorney, soon earned the title of district attorney, and then attorney general of California. She fought against gang violence and sexual abuse, unfair mortgage lender practice. She opposed Proposition 8; her voice is a great reason why my LGBT siblings and I can get married. Through her years of work, what women, and especially women of color, are so afraid of being – headstrong, decisive, self-assertive – became her reputation and is in line to become her legacy.
In 2016, those who believe in love, freedom, voice, and peace; those who lived eight years in the Obama era; those who felt afraid to leave their house in their skin; who longed to be white just for a moment of peace; they, we, felt everything slip away in a matter of seconds. Two white men, anti-black, anti-immigrant, promoting conversion therapy. Two white men who view women as rape objects, women as nothings, who advocated against womanly autonomy, stripped the little brown girls and boys, the trans people, the immigrant families, the gay people, the economically strained, of a vision of the future which they can stand to prosper rather than merely survive.
In 2020, those who believe in love, freedom, voice, and peace; those who lived four years exhausted by male centricity, white supremacy, and in fear of violence; those who never saw themselves in positions of power without having to search the depths of our racial and ethnic histories in the US to find we have ended up serving the people who enslaved us, serving the people who threaten us, kill us, silence us; we felt a bulk of the things that slipped away come back into grasp. This is not the end of fascism, the end of tyranny, the end of the attack on women, and the attack on people of color. No, but this is the beginning of the war to get there. This time, our echoing chanting, protesting voices and pussy hats, our staring at men with firearms in the eye challenging them to murder us like they did so many black people like Breonna Taylor, like George Floyd, will not be in fear for our lives. Instead, our protest has the chance to fall upon listening ears. Our protest is out of the continued move towards justice in an unjust system. Our protest may actually have the chance to turn from screaming and chanting to dialoguing our way into the very beginnings of sociopolitical change.
There is more to Kamala Harris’ womanly and racially epoch-making authority in the White House than politics. She stands for what modern love looks like, too. For years, brown and black women have been mocked, made other by those within their own race, for falling in love with someone who is white. For years far more noxious, the existence of that love has brought brown and black women into soulful relationships intruded by the toxicity of racism that still prides itself in the hearts of so many Americans. The story is too familiar, ending years of love because of racism and, equally, xenophobia. Recall one mixed-race presidential or vice-presidential couple, and the story is fictitious, that is, until now.
Kamala Harris grew up in a house both Christian and Hindu and later married Jewish partner Douglas Emhoff. The reality is that the entirety of the US is speckled with religious diversity. Somehow, the simultaneous reality is that Christianity has been the basis for establishing social purity in the attitudes of many older Americans – the same Americans who position themselves as lawmakers, the same Americans that fight against human rights. Mixed race and mixed religious marriages only sound like some sort of cultural taboo or some out-of-norm, but the rates of intermixing couples are rising as the climate for pure, unadulterated freedom is changing. Kamala Harris mixed marriage and mixed kids defy the enervating, racist, and xenophobic standards set by the US’s culture, still steeped in its days of disallowing certain populations to vote and its slavery. It’s more than the time that this country considers defying these attitudes, too.
Somewhere between being younger and being scared, I wonder if being a woman and being brown will be my detriment. White men enjoy talking over me when I talk politics as if their colonization has left them more knowledgeable about racial suffering. Brown men enjoy telling me how to dress to meet their images of respectability that somehow align perfectly with the ones who speak over me. Both fight to take away my sex and sexual freedom, lower my volume, and speak their politics through my mouth. I am in love with a white man whose parents dislike my race, dislike my religion, believe in blue lives, and think the Irish have suffered more than black people have. I wonder if it is my job to educate, or if it is my job to run if it is possible that love can grow in a plot where racism has yet to be buried.
Older now, I often talk to my mother about the life I would like to have. I envision five kids, two of my own making, and three adopted. I want to raise them in a house I’ve built and decorated with mementos of personal pride. I want Indian decorations on the walls, South Asian music playing loudly as I make roti and chole (chickpea curry). In the life I see, the life I am trying to live now, I don’t allow men to think they own my gender, my race, or my religion. I will not feel deterred from my skin and my immigrant parents because I know they are the ones who have built me into success, have imbued me with pride, who have built and continue to build America. I will love without making myself a racial educator to oppressors. I will love only with the heart and hope that the one I love does the same.
Growing into oneself, racially, gender-wise, religiously, in a confident and loud manner, even belligerent, has taken brown and black women great portions of lifetimes. Even with brilliant mothers who stir their curry pots and play South Asian dramas, even with female scientists and doctors who are largely influential, even with the continued self-talk “My womanness makes me strong, my race makes me strong, my religion makes me strong, I am all together unbreakable,” Kamala Harris’ position of power will quicken that process for the future. To look at a long and gruesome history of white faces and white men, interrupted by the face, race, religion, beliefs, and achievements of Kamala Harris is a moment little girls of color will look at for the rest of history and think – “I want to be president when I grow up!”
When our biracial, black, and brown daughters sit on our laps and look at their reflections, their eyes will look familiar to the eyes of the remarkable, history-making women of color who came before them, us included. When our daughters hear the little boys say, “I want to be president when I grow up!” they will join them, and they will be louder. Our black and brown girls will continue this racial and gendered revolution, and they will fight hard until they do not have to anymore. This is the legacy of Kamala Harris, and this is the legacy of our women.