Simi Patel cried after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were announced the winners of the 2020 presidential election, but not from sadness. The University of Georgia junior was “elated” when she heard the news. Patel — along with the rest of the world — is now witnessing representation at the highest level of U.S. politics with Kamala Harris’ role as vice president-elect.
Harris is the first woman, first Black woman and first South Asian woman to hold that role. There has been only one vice president of color. Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s vice president, was Native American. She is the third woman to be officially nominated for the office of vice president. Only one woman, Hillary Clinton in 2016, has been a major party’s presidential nominee. Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to seek a major party’s nomination for president, in 1972.
Harris’ position is significant for those in the Black and Indian communities who are seeing someone with their identities at the highest levels of politics.
‘Someone who is kind of like me’
Adanze Nnyagu said the representation that Harris provides is important for both the Black and South Asian communities, a point Patel echoed.
“I can finally see someone who is kind of like me in the second highest office of this country,” Patel, a psychology and criminal justice major and member of Indian Cultural Exchange at UGA, said. “I have younger cousins, and they’re finally getting to see someone who is not a white man making decisions.”
Harris will be representing historically disadvantaged groups while in office, Nnyagu, a senior psychology major, said. Nnyagu is the president of the Abeneefoo Kuo Honor Society, which provides leadership and support for Black students and the Athens community. She said she wants Harris’ impression to be a good one because she will set the precedent for other minority groups who want to enter politics and other fields.
Robert Pratt hopes that Harris inspires more political activism in communities of color. Pratt, a professor of history at UGA who focuses on African American history, said the record voter turnout of the election was partly because of Harris’ presence on the Democratic ticket.
“This most recent election has proven to communities of color that when we organize and mobilize and get actively involved in the political process, that we can affect change,” Pratt said.
Caylin Bennett, a senior political science and criminal justice major, said although Biden and Harris are the best option to respond to the needs of the people, there is still work to do. Getting the coronavirus under control, economic recovery, the Black Lives Matter movement and criminal justice reform are among the issues Bennett said were important to address. Nnyagu said she would also like to see action on those issues along with climate change.
“With Kamala Harris, it’s just great to have that representation and know that one day it could be me in that position,” Bennett said. “But at the same time, the work doesn’t stop here.”
Unification is important to Pratt, who said the Trump presidency made the U.S. more divided. Trump failed on issues of social and racial justice, Pratt said, but he hopes a Biden-Harris administration will move the country in the right direction.
Patel echoed the sentiment that Biden and Harris, while the best option in the election, are more moderate than she would have hoped. While she was glad about the result of the election, she said the people need to hold the upcoming administration accountable.
“Elections are like a bus stop and not a final destination,” Patel said. “You have to get on the bus if you want to make any sort of change.”