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Official broadcasters are no match for the genetic predisposition Black women carry for spilling tea. Usually, a piping hot development is best served with a low murmur, incomplete sentences, soft gasps, and a concoction of raised eyebrows, pursed lips, and judicious nodding. However, the announcement that Kamala Harris was officially the first Black woman to be elected Vice President required a bombastic rejoicing full of cathartic dancing and singing (and probably a little bit of cussing too).
After all, why not? It was a momentous day in United States history and an emotional day for Black women. One Donald Trump later, over 79 million people have chosen Vice President-elect Harris and begun an unforeseen chapter in the country’s story about Black women, our desirability, and our essentiality. Seeing a Black woman with both an assertive silk press and demeanor elevated to one of the highest positions in our country uplifts and validates Black femininity in a way that defies its historical rejection.
Like several notable Black American cultural figures before her, Harris attended Howard University, a historically Black university colloquially considered to be “The Mecca” for Black intellectual exploration and awakening. She knows the struggle of many Black college students attempting to maintain their academics while memorizing strolls for their Divine Nine probates, and she likely lets out an occasional high-pitched “Skee-wee” when she reunites with her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorors.
Kamala Harris’s win was not only an electoral victory, but also an illustration that unapologetic Black femininity and success do not have to be mutually exclusive — an empowering message in a world plagued by code switching and respectability politics.
Black girls deserve to relish in this moment and bask in the beauty of themselves because Harris’s victory was achieved largely by our design. Across multiple southern battleground states, female Black organizers played a decisive role in flipping key districts and dedicated their labor towards correcting an electoral system that traditionally has failed to protect us. By supporting the Biden-Harris ticket in the highest numbers of any race-gender demographic category, Black women proved once again that we'll always show up for America even though America has never shown up for us.
Despite securing victory, Black women must now navigate a difficult conflict of interests. While representation does provide us a source of validation, representation alone will not breed the institutional changes necessary to improve our conditions. Harris’ identity does not ensure that her actions while in office will reflect the commitment to change we want our girls to emulate. Holding a prestigious position within a flawed electoral system bears little virtue unless the Black women in power actively work to reconstruct and re-envision the oppressive systems that very few manage to persist through.
In the midst of our excitement about what electing a Black woman as Vice President symbolizes, we should not overlook that no matter who occupies the White House, the U.S.’ current institutions will never benefit the most marginalized.
During the Biden-Harris administration, there will likely be a decline in racist rhetoric and an increase in relief programs targeting student loan debt and health care, which will undoubtedly aid struggling minorities. However, Harris and Biden owe Black organizers and communities more than lip service and moderate policy initiatives. They may say Black Lives Matter, but does it matter if they do not believe in defunding the police or other initiatives to combat systemic racism? The Obama era taught us that it does not.
Throughout the tenure of our first Black president, Black people were protesting the exact same injustices as they are now during the Trump administration. Obama’s presence in the White House offered the Black communities that were his most vocal supporters very little reprieve from racist institutions. Yet Black America allowed the elation of his unprecedented victory to dissuade critical discourse.
We cannot repeat these mistakes. Neither Kamala’s Blackness nor her womanhood disqualifies her from falling complicit into an evil system, and we should refrain from sensationalizing her as Black “Girl Boss.” Feminism and representation lose their significance when the women making gains achieve their success through perpetuating harmful systems.
Black women in the U.S. must see past the joy we feel as U.S. citizens and think about our sisters in the Global South who are not inspired by Harris’s election. They know that historically, regardless of which party holds power, U.S. foreign policy will remain invasive and rooted in exploitation. We should be fighting against any elected official that maintains repressive structures, even when they wear pink and green, wrap their hair at night, and listen to Tupac.
Make no mistake, Black women are allowed to enjoy this moment. But we should not slip into complacency or let our celebration overshadow our consciousness. Some days, we will be proud to have Kamala Harris represent us in the White House. Other days, we will not. Every day, our feelings will be valid, requiring nuance and sensitivity.
Over the next four years, whether we are criticizing her actions or praising her accomplishments, Black women should pour into Kamala Harris like we pour into ourselves, our communities, and our country. We should never forget that progress is contingent on love. However, love always requires holding each other — even our first Black female Vice President — to the highest anti-imperialist, anti-inequality, and anti-racist standard.
Marissa J. Joseph ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Kirkland House.
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