The same political pundits who adoringly covered Kamala Harris’s ascension to vice president are the same people who inflicted tired sexist double standards on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Starting January 21, 2021, there’s only one direction Vice President Kamala Harris can go: down.
Don’t get me wrong. Similar to millions of American women, I was honored to watch Vice President Harris’s swearing-in. I was raised in a predominantly sexist household in a former sundown town in the Midwest, so her ascension to vice president was personally inspiring. The fact that a majority of American voters promoted her is evidence that the feigned concern over female leaders, particularly women of color, throughout my childhood was unfounded—weak insults from insecure, jealous bigots.
Intentionally and unintentionally, America put Vice President Harris on a well-deserved and hard-earned pedestal that’s higher than President Joe Biden’s. My social media feeds were filled with memes of shattered glass and declarations that January 20, 2021 is the last day in American history with all-male presidents and vice presidents—a fact that is more pathetic than historic.
But heavy accolades come with high expectations that are rarely met in everyone’s eyes.
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In addition to the nation’s high hopes and the bigotry she faced during the campaign, Vice President Harris will also have to address four years’ worth of the Trump administration’s actions and policies while simultaneously mitigating a global pandemic.
Such a task is Herculean even for the most privileged white person. The difference for Vice President Harris is that when (not if) she fails, she will fall further and harder than that same privileged white person. The same political pundits who adoringly covered her ascension to vice president are the same people who inflicted tired sexist double standards on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Adding to Vice President Harris’s burden will be the assumption that, dueza to her race and gender, her mere presence will guarantee that everyone and their individual interests will be fully represented without conflict. This country is already looking to her to advocate for everything and everyone that was ignored, hated, and disenfranchised for the past 244 years. Although this hope may sound extreme, such assumptions have been previously heaped upon women and people of color in the public eye.
Recall that when Orange is the New Black, a show based on a white woman’s incarceration in a federal women’s prison, aired, it was a hit. Yet Atlantic writer Noah Berlatsky seriously asked why men were not given bigger roles. He meticulously backed up his arguments with prison statistics on gender and gave specific examples of female prisoners garnering sympathy while male prisoners did not.
Despite his best efforts at insisting there was marginalization, I wonder if Berlatsky felt the same way about the overabundance of white men in the Shawshank Redemption, Glengarry Glen Ross, 12 Angry Men, Oz, The Green Mile, Escape from Alcatraz, The Thing, Rambo, Lord of the Flies, and Das Boot. The only reason Berlatsky pointed out the underrepresentation of one demographic was because Orange is the New Black is a show by women, about women, and for women. He assumed that if a woman or a person of color is in control, then diversity isn’t only required but comprehensive inclusion must satisfy everyone’s demands. White people are exempt because whiteness is the forgivable norm.
Although I have the highest of hopes for Vice President Harris, I’m also confident that her first misstep in office will be met with derision and contempt. The 24-hour news cycle will fill the hours with empty analysis of the tiniest details, and political pundits who will “question” whether the country made an error in electing her. Her mistakes will be the perfect vehicles for polite but thinly cloaked racism or sexism. She looks different from white people; therefore, she is supposed to be different from white people.
As a country, we are so eager to distance ourselves from the hateful Trump administration—but if we’re not careful, we’ll end up making similar mistakes and reinforcing unrealistic standards for people of color.
Vice President Harris is human. I honestly hope we treat her that way.
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