Sen. Kamala Harris’ nomination for vice president is historic. She is the first Black woman and first Indian woman to be a vice presidential nominee on a major party ticket, and the fourth woman on any presidential ticket.
Harris’ mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was born in Chennai, India, the capital of the South Indian state Tamil Nadu. Her father, Donald Harris, was born in Brown’s Town, Jamaica. Both countries were under British rule at the time, and both Gopalan and Harris immigrated to the U.S. to attend college. They met at the University of California, Berkeley, where they were a part of the Afro American Association, a student group focused on Black studies.
“My parents marched and shouted in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It’s because of them and the folks who also took to the streets to fight for justice that I am where I am,” Harris wrote on Instagram. “They laid the path for me, as only the second Black woman ever elected to the United States Senate.”
Her political career and nomination as vice president is significant for those in the Black and Indian communities who are seeing someone with their identities succeed at the highest levels of politics in America.
Adanze Nnyagu said she hopes Harris inspires others from marginalized groups to enter all industries, not just politics. Nnyagu is the president of the Abeneefoo Kuo Honor Society, which provides leadership and support for Black students and the Athens community.
“I hope that it welcomes more opportunities for Black women to enter into not just political positions but other, higher tier positions in different industries,” Nnyagu said. Nnyagu aspires to enter the health care field, where cultural, gender and ethnic diversity is underrepresented.
The inequities present at every level of society deter change in the U.S., Nnyagu said, but she hopes that as more diverse voices enter different fields, substantial change can be made.
Visible representation is important in encouraging people to enter those fields, said Caylin Bennett, a sophomore political science and criminal justice double major. Seeing Harris at the highest levels of politics “encourages people to at least have some kind of hope that that could be them in the future,” Bennett, a Black woman, said.
“Seeing yourself being represented can be very impactful, and it might encourage people who may be on the fence about whether or not to pursue their career in politics to feel more compelled to,” she said.
Seeing an Indian woman succeed in politics is “huge,” said Simi Patel, a member of Indian Cultural Exchange at UGA. The fact that Harris is biracial is often erased from the narrative, Patel said, but she provides representation for both the Black and Indian communities.
“She actually accepts that she’s Indian, she knows that there are some struggles in the Indian community, the brown community and the Black community,” Patel, who is Indian, said. “Even though she was the first Black attorney general, the first Black [district attorney], she was also the first Indian woman in those positions, so that’s really big for a lot of people.”
She also brings attention to the fact that Indian Americans and other South Asians are overlooked in the Asian American community, Patel said — when people think “Asian,” they tend to think of East Asian ethnicities, such as Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean identities.
“My mother instilled in my sister Maya and me the values that would chart the course of our lives,” Harris said in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. “She raised us to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.”
Patel said Harris’ success opens the door for people in a community where going into politics is taboo. Since it’s not a typical, “stable” career, like law or medicine, many South Asian parents discourage it, Patel said. Harris shows it’s possible to make a career in politics and that Indian women “don’t have to be restricted by stereotypes and expectations.”
While Harris’ position as a vice presidential candidate provides much-needed representation, Nnyagu, Bennett and Patel acknowledged she’s not a perfect candidate.
Bennett said it seemed Harris fit the profile of what Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wanted in a vice president, not that she was chosen for particularly progressive views. While Bennett said she was rooting for everyone Black, she wished the vice president was someone who would fight for issues that impact the Black community.
“I don’t think it’ll be the change that we want to see, based on what’s been happening this year,” she said.
A lot of things need to be undone from the current administration, Bennett said, including environmental and social issues. Black Lives Matter rallies continue across the nation to protest police brutality and fight for racial equality.
Harris wasn’t Nnyagu’s first choice either — she was hoping for Biden to choose Stacey Abrams, who ran for Georgia governor in 2018. Abrams has taken more progressive stances on issues than Harris, and Nnyagu said she related to Abrams more.
Patel said that she was glad the South Asian community was being represented but was cautious of giving her position too much importance.
“It is a small win but you have to look at the bigger picture, because this isn’t just about Indian Americans, this isn’t just about celebrating an Indian holiday or a Hindu holiday in the White House,” Patel said. “It’s about a country of so many people of so many cultures and religions and ethnicities … that are going to be affected by the policies this administration, when elected, puts into place.”