Celebrating a Series of Firsts

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

As an organization that works to advance equity for women and girls, AAUW takes great pride in the election of Kamala Harris to the second highest office in the land. Our soon-to-be Vice President has broken through many barriers, becoming the first woman and the first Black, Indian and South Asian American to serve in that post. Here are some insights into this enormous milestone. 

“As the first Black and South Asian-American and the first female vice president, Harris will carry the weight of her ancestors into the second-highest public office in the land. This is a position of enormous privilege and power. It offers an unprecedented opportunity to push our country closer to justice and equality for marginalized communities, and for all Americans … She is poised to be a pivotal player in international and domestic affairs, thanks to her service on the Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Judiciary committees. She can help direct big issues like criminal justice reform, voting rights protections, health care and wage growth for teachers and other workers … Her most critical role, however, may be speaking with President-elect Joe Biden as his most trusted adviser. She will be a perpetual reminder not to neglect the forgotten base, the people of color, especially the Black women and men, who helped elect him, when the white majority turned the other way. Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University professor of history and African-American studies and 1989-90 AAUW American Fellow,  Read more.

And in the clear air, on Saturday evening, Harris stood onstage outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., in her white pantsuit — with all of its connections to the women’s suffrage movement — with an American flag pinned to her lapel, and the moment was exquisite. Black women, White women, young women, old women, little girls all bounced in the parking lot, cheering, weeping…. Her presence on that stage speaks of the influence of Black women in our democracy, but also the ways in which respect for their intellect, their womanhood and their individuality has been slow to come. Harris’s rise reflects the intellectual might of historically Black colleges and universities and their commitment to telling the story of African Americans as central to our nation’s narrative, not as an addendum. Robin Givhan, Washington Post Read more.


In her words

“I am thinking about . . . the generations of women, Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women, who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all—including the Black women who are often, too often, overlooked, but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”  

Kamala Harris

“Americans like to celebrate progressive victories by swiftly forgetting past failures. Let us not forget the eight years that we spent touting a narrative of being “postracial.” But part of what it means to have Black people in high office—or what it should mean—is a willingness to reckon with the damn near intractable barriers that caused it to take so long to get there. The first Black woman to express an aspiration to be Vice President was Charlotte Rollin, a race leader, suffragist and socialite who joked that she would be a great VP pick for the 1872 election. Harris is the fulfillment of a dream that Rollin could only facetiously entertain, a dream that eluded Charlotta Bass, the first Black woman to run for Vice President, in 1952 … Black women leaders are so important to this democracy precisely because they dare to keep dreaming… Representation is not everything. But it is absolutely something.” Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower Read more.

“The singular strengths that have enabled her to succeed over the course of her career (despite facing elevated standards as a Black woman) will make Kamala Harris exactly the kind of vice president we need right now: one with courage, energy and most of all, empathy … With her formidable smarts, frank communication style, and innate ability to connect deeply with everyday Americans, Vice President-elect Harris will show the world what a strong woman leader looks like. And she’ll inspire women and girls here in the United States to run for office, in a brand new and powerful way. At a moment when our country is faced with the most serious crises in generations, and women and people of color have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, Harris will bring her unique style of leadership to the White House: strong, decisive and compassionate. Barbara Lee, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Read more.

“Harris’ historic journey to the White House illustrates the delicate dance it takes, both in our own communities and on a national stage, for Black women to win in America, where our humanity has often been viewed through the gaze of racism and sexism. Hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, injustice and inequality have harshly informed and limited our ideas of how Black people can and should exist in this country. They’ve shaped how we see ourselves and one another. And, out of fear, we’ve too often hesitated to dream too big, or to recognize our collective power to shape our destinies. But then a brilliant woman like Harris comes along, breaking down barriers, and too many of us can hardly recognize ourselves in her — or her in us. Roxanne Jones, co-author of Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete Read more.

“The most significant thing Harris can do is to strike a meaningful balance between who she is as a symbolic figure and what she can substantively provide through her position. I would like to see her doing things that are clearly and specifically for and about Black Americans. For example, Harris would be uniquely positioned to be effective in any attempt to re-imagine this nation’s criminal justice system. That would start with making her central to the selection of the Biden administration’s attorney general. It would continue with having her draw on her experience as a prosecutor and state attorney general to be the leading voice in any efforts to reform policing and law enforcement that may come from the White House.  As another example, Harris is the first graduate of a historically black college or university to hold national elected office. As such, I would like to see her strengthen the relationship between the White House and these critically important institutions of social mobility for Black people.” Keneshia Grant,  author of The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century Read more.