“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m feeling good.”
The woes of America did not fade into dust on Jan. 20, but the inauguration of Biden as president and more specifically Harris as vice-president has ushered in a new era and I feel good.
Kamala Harris is now the first female vice-president of the United States of America. She is the first Black vice-president, the first South Asian vice-president and the first daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica to be vice-president. After 244 years in a role held exclusively by white men, her inauguration marked a monumental page in American history books.
Yet, you did not have to be American to feel the gravitas of the moment. Women and men around the world were watching with swollen hearts. But women, and particularly women of colour were vibrating at a higher level.
Working from home, I settled in front of the television from 10 a.m. with my laptop to take it all in. Over the next six hours, the flood of emotions was overwhelming. Group chats with my cousins abroad in England, elderly relatives in India and in-laws in Guyana were dominated by one name. Kamala. As an immigrant woman of South Asian descent, it is difficult to express just how powerful it felt watching Harris being sworn in as vice-president of the United States.
Ceremonies are often laden with symbolism and tradition. But this inauguration was steeped in history and significance at every turn, in details big and small. Harris was escorted to the podium by Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman. He was the officer who two weeks before had single-handedly fought back a swarm of Trump supporters as they attempted to storm the Senate floor during the Capitol insurrection.
“Little girls and little boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible. And in the end, that is America,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said in her introductory remarks, grinning so wide, she could not contain her joy.
I beamed back at my screen. Before introducing Sonia Sotomayor — the first Latina on the Supreme Court — to swear Harris into office, Klobuchar paid homage to the women like her who have paved the political path, noting Harris “stands on the shoulders of so many on this platform.”
When I saw Harris and Sotomayor, two women of colour, stand opposite one another, my joy shifted to immense pride, and the tears began to flow. The Bibles on which Harris placed her hand, held deep significance as well. She was sworn in using two Bibles, one that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice and Harris’s own political role model. The other Bible belonged to her childhood neighbour, Regina Shelton, who helped raise her and her sister Maya.
From Andrea Hall, the female fire captain who led the pledge of allegiance, the celebrity star power of Lady Gaga singing the national anthem to Jennifer Lopez taking a moment to slip in one of her own hits and address the nation in Spanish during her performance, the presence of female brilliance and female joy on stage was electric.
Most notable was 22-year old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. She recited a poem, which she wrote in part, on Jan. 6, the day of the Capital insurrection.
“There is always light if we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it,” she concluded in her reading. Her powerful, inspiring and rousing words gave her a standing ovation. Again, more tears as I too stood to my feet and clapped thunderously in my living room.
Former first lady Michelle Obama, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Harris all wore different shades of striking purple. Purple has long represented bipartisanship, and in addition to white, is also a colour of the suffragette movement, representing “loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause.”
Harris’ outfit was designed by two Black emerging designers, Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson. Harris also wore her signature pearls, an ode to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the nation’s oldest sorority for Black women, which she joined at Howard University. Even the presidential escort was joined by the drumline from Harris’ alma mater.
Personally, one of the most emotional parts of inauguration day was seeing Harris and her family during the parade and as they walked to the steps to the White House. There were brown faces, there were Black faces. Her family looked like mine. Again the tears filled my eyes as I watched the youngest girls in her family take it all in; that this celebration is for their aunty, this big place called “the White House” is where their aunty works.
It reminded me of what Harris’ late mother said: “You may be the first to do many things—make sure you’re not the last.”
I thought about all the other little girls also watching in awe at home, imagining the pride and hope swelling in their hearts — this is all real, not just a pipe dream.
The last year has brought so much heartache, pain and grief. We are living through a pandemic. We are living through this strange and deadly new coronavirus, but also the virus of racism and hate, which is far from new. None of this went away with the last administration, nor is it limited to the U.S., but affects all of us globally.
In the joy of the inauguration, I was invigorated to remain focused on all the work that is ahead. I reminded my South Asian friends and family that while we celebrate Kamala Harris, let us also reflect on the deep-seated anti-Black racism, issues of casteism and classism that we need to address within our communities and let us honour this historic moment by doing better in our own lives.
Sometimes our joy can be as powerful as our pain to fuel us to fight for what is good and right.
When I put my five-year-old daughter to bed on inauguration night, we lied in bed talking about the momentous day. She asked me, “Mommy, what does the vice-president actually do?” I explained that she works with the president to run the country. She looked at me wide-eyed: “The entire country?” I nodded my head yes.
“Can I do that when I’m big?”
I smiled wide.
“Yes baby, you sure can.”