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Harris a First Among Firsts

Wed, 01/20/2021 - 17:36


Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Kamala Harris becoming the first woman vice president in United States history is that it does not feel all that remarkable that a woman should occupy such a position. It is, of course, and Hillary Clinton, who might have been the first woman president had her campaign taken Rust Belt voters’ concerns seriously in the 2016 election cycle, advised on Twitter earlier this week, “Let’s just sit with this for a minute and what it means.”

Vice President Harris (it gives chills just to type those words) is also the first South Asian-American and first Black American and first Caribbean-American to take the post, and her family background could be an important signal about what kind of role she would assume as a national leader. Her mother came to the U.S. as a 19-year-old graduate student from India studying nutrition and endocrinology and went on to a path-blazing career in biology that led to advances in breast cancer research. Her father also came to this country to study, in his case, economics, which he later taught at Stanford University, but he was born and brought up in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. One can imagine what the proverbial dinner table conversations were like in the Harris household when the new vice president was a girl.

The past two weeks have been a time of ignoble firsts as well — the first invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a hostile force in more than 200 years and the first second impeachment of a president. Our dynamic country is a place where the seemingly impossible can become possible — think of emancipation, suffrage, equal rights, same-sex marriage, and a Black president and now a Black vice president. For all America’s ills, advances can and do happen, often painfully, imperfectly, and slowly, but they happen — Americans can rebuild faith in their nation after the chaos of the last four years by remembering this.

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