Crying and holding my daughter, “look baby, she looks like us.” pic.twitter.com/Gy4MAPoNjy
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) November 7, 2020
This Mindy Kaling quote has not left my head in three days.
It’s only six words, but these six words hold more weight in my heart than I ever expected.
These six words flowed through my mind on repeat as I sat glued to coverage of the election results on Saturday morning.
While I watched groups of people in New York and Washington D.C. and Wilmington, Delaware, sing and dance and cheer for President-Elect Joe Biden, my thoughts went straight to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
The first woman to hold the office of Vice President of the United States.
A woman, like me.
A woman of color, like me.
A woman who looks like me.
I cried and cheered and cried some more.
The tears felt relentless. And cathartic. And they seemed to come from a place that surprised even me.
Growing up, I was surrounded by strong, determined, Black and brown women who pushed me to find what I was good at—what I loved—and to not let anyone convince me that I couldn’t succeed.
But I also grew up with the firsthand knowledge that because I’m a woman of color, I would need to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, to prove that I was not just good at something, but exceptional. I knew that I would be underestimated at almost every turn, not just because of my gender, but because of my race and ethnicity.
We all heard this line as children: “When you grow up you can be anything you want to be, even president.” And while those words sounded inspiring, I also knew that there were a million words not being said at the time, especially to little girls and children of color, who had never seen themselves represented at the level of president or vice president.
And that lack of representation said more to me than any words ever could.
When those tears started to fall while watching the news, and when they continued later that night during Harris’s speech, I realized that their depth and power came from the fact that while I’ve always considered myself a feminist and someone who works for progress and equality, I had never fully believed that I would witness this moment in my lifetime.
I never fully believed that a woman of color, a Black woman, an Indian woman, a woman raised by immigrant parents—a woman who looks like me—would rise to the second highest office in the land.
And I realized that my tears were ones of immense pride, but also intense sadness, because I’ve seen and experienced how women of color are too often treated in this country.
How they are devalued.
How they are taken for granted.
How they are expected to always be strong.
How they are always expected to show up, even when the rest of the world doesn’t show up for them.
As I watched Kamala speak, I understood that my tears weren’t just for her, they were for me. For the little girl who hoped for one day, but didn’t believe she’d be around to see it. For my sisters and cousins and nieces and friends and their daughters who can look at this intelligent, accomplished, brown-skinned woman and allow themselves to see a future (and a present) where they are represented—where they have a seat at the table.
Where their presence and their ideas and their voices are valued.
Where their hearts and brains and beliefs aren’t taken for granted.
Where their vulnerability is praised as much as their strength.
Where they show up for a world that is ready, willing, and able to show up for them.
This country is far from perfect, as is Harris, and as are the rest of us, but in the absence of perfection, we can still hope for and choose progress.
As Harris put it so beautifully:
“To the woman most responsible for my presence here today—my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts. When she came here from India at the age of 19, maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment.
But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.
So, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women—Black women. Asian, white, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight.
Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty, and justice for all, including the Black women, who are too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy…
Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision—to see what can be unburdened by what has been. I stand on their shoulders.
But while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last.
Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”