When I watch Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, my eyes will be on Kamala Harris, the first woman, Black person, and South Asian elected vice-president.
It's poetic that she'll be sworn in by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, using the bible of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice. I'll be cheering for my two sisters, late mother, and Grandma Anna Mae. They are the Black women who raised me.
Anna Mae was born 46 years before the Voting Rights Act made it possible for her to cast a ballot. As a kid, I walked hand-in-hand with her to our local polling place in Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood. She explained how civil rights activists fought and died to make our vote possible. She's the reason I became an activist myself. I worked to win the freedom to marry, and now I work for other LGBTQ issues and racial justice.
Grandma went to the same Black Baptist church for forty years. Every Sunday morning, she and my mom dressed my two younger brothers and me in kid-sized suits with clip-on ties too big for our little bodies. My two baby sisters would join us later when they were born.
There was no getting out of service no matter how hard I faked a stomachache.
She believed in the bible and that every new day was a gift from God.
“No matter what,” Grandma said, “pray and hand your problems over to Jesus.”
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In a family where my dad had little use for a “f****t” son, she was the first to tell me that she loved me. She was the lifeline I needed as a scared gay 15-year-old who was bullied after school. She didn’t even make a fuss when she found my gay porn magazines in my bedroom. She stacked them under my bed without saying a word.
Obama became Grandma Anna Mae’s favorite topic of conversation in 2008, replacing me, her former favorite. When I called or visited her from New York, instead of asking if I was eating enough or sleeping well, she'd ask, “Did you see what Barack said?” She lived long enough to vote for him both times, but she didn’t live to see Harris elected.
She died in 2013 at the age of 94. My mom died a few years earlier in 2006. As I watch Harris raise her right hand and place her left hand, I'll be thinking of how proud they would be to see Kamala sworn in.
To the women in my family, the thought that voters would one day choose someone who looked like them to hold the second highest office in a country that once enslaved African people, was unthinkable. But they never gave up hope that their votes mattered.
White people flooded social media with posts exclaiming “thank you Black women" after 90% of Black females voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. For years, Black women have punched above their electoral weight to save the country from itself by voting Democratic while up to 55% of white women voted for Trump in 2020. Black women have given more to America than they have ever gotten in return.
The economic security of working-class women of color has been precarious. Black women earn just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white men. This is also in comparison to white women, who make 77 cents for every dollar a white man makes. They have borne the brunt of job losses caused by the Covid pandemic. They are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women in the United States.
This week, we’ll celebrate a moment of reprieve from the toxicity of 2020 with a new Black female vice-president. It’s an incredible achievement made even more powerful by the fact that it is occurring in the aftermath of a white supremacist insurrection instigated by Trump.
The recent controversy over which suit Kamala wore on the February cover of Vogue shows how much of our dreams rest on Kamala’s shoulders. She’ll be a lightning rod for racists who'll try to tear her down as they tried to destroy President Obama. Yet she’ll have women of color ready to defend her.
In Kamala, I see the strength, power, and grace of the women who raised me. I’m excited for the rest of the country to see it too.
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