There were many people who overcame racial barriers. Many who violated gender. But Harris, the American daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, is simultaneously making her way through so many doors that the full symbolism and impact of her ascent must be considered in parts. And at this particular point, Harris’s importance to black women – her perception of them – pays special attention.
Black women live at the crossroads of the miasma of racism and misogyny in this country. They are the flesh of blood, a testament to how our superstitions and stereotypes hinder the economic stability of the hardest workers and the professional advancement of some of the most talented people in the country. Black women were also common bearers of dignity in the face of disrespect and perseverance in response to doubt. They are a hope made by man.
Their physical presence speaks to our aesthetic biases and careless insults. We use them in memes and GIFs to put the common face on anger and impudence, on irritation and greedy desire. They are Jezebel. They are Madeia. They are the wet nurses of this young democracy. And more recently, they have been described by the grateful choir on social media as saving democracy – #thanks.
Black women scandalized disobedient democratic voters and drove them to polling stations. They organized and talked, explained and walked until the voices were hoarse and the legs were numb. In the eyes of their critics, they were unpleasant and vile, but they continued the work of Yoman’s civic activism. Harris is the fruit of their work.
But they are not selfless saviors; they are people. Harris also expresses this simple truth.
Her success brought women to tears, especially black women. Democratic strategist Donna Brasil wept over Harris’ victory as she heard the voices of her mothers and grandmothers, black women who had not lived to this day, whispering prayers of thanksgiving. Brazil warns that this country should not accept the rise of Harris as a cure for gender inequality or racial injustice. Harris is the first – and, as she has repeated so often, she has no plans to be the last. But she alone is not transformative. Just as there was no post-racial America after the election of Barack Obama, there is no post-gender America now. Harris will not stifle those critics who express irritation about women’s perseverance, their “unpleasant” habit of claiming their fair share and refusing to return to where they came from, at least because they believe their rightful place is exactly where they are.
And yet there is music in Harris’s voice.
For a long time, when we imagined a woman reaching the highest rank of power, the focus was on what it would look like – on how else power would appear in citizenship if it was thrown over a woman’s shoulders. History has given us flexible bows for ridiculous manic blazers and lots of boxed costumes in candy shades. Harris makes his everyday professional attire extremely out of place, except for issues of aesthetic pleasure.
She likes a dark suit. Perhaps a contrasting blouse is perhaps one that matches. It wears a form without becoming a declaration of conformity. It is not a dramatic fantasy dynamo of the fashion industry. She is an experienced woman who has freed herself to dress as a result of the criticism, analysis, admiration, and armament of the wardrobes of the many women who preceded her: the Shirley Chisholm print; Geraldine Ferrara’s silk dresses and pearls; Rainbow Pants Hillary Clinton; Nancy Pelosi’s elegant old-world nail polish; Madeleine Albright Collection of Symbolic Brooches; Sime Palin outside of Neumann Marcus’s posts; and countless other political women who have adopted fashion as a form of communication or simply made peace with it.
We used to see women in the room and sit at the table – even at the head of the table. But to hear them through the deaf cacophony of male voices? Listen to them without harm? Listening to them, without describing them as piercing and hysterical, proved to be a separate but no less difficult task. But change is upon us.
When Harris, 56, says there are times when you can argue that she sounds girly, that means she can seem light and effervescent. She laughs easily and with pleasure. She talks about cooking and motherhood and about her favorite Converse sneakers. She has no voice news anchor – one who trains and practices in order to stay low. But from now on gravity is no longer measured in octaves. To be a girl means to be powerful, because power is redefined.
When Harris is engaged in law, she speaks in sharp, quick tones. At the end of her proposals there is no rise, which may suggest that she is ready to question her statements. Her words are rich and important. It does not bend and does not focus on verbal tics. It can make those polled turn around, as was the case with former attorneys general William P. Barr and Jeff Sessions. Her public profile was built on her dazzling verbal behavior when she expressed the skepticism and frustration of the electorate, which was tired of the administration, which seemed to be trying to get around the truth. The indelible image is Senator Corey Booker (DN.J.), who sat next to Harris and listened to her with an expression of pride and cheerfulness as she orally disassembled the stubbornly tight Bar. When someone was emotional, the men shivered.
Her voice calls the sisterhood of her historically black sisterhood Alpha Capa Alpha; it has hints at the musicality living in the Black Church, and confidence in the kinship of her colleagues, graduates of Howard University. Despite the hint of California cravings, her voice lacks a distinctive regional accent. It’s just American. It is nonspecific and universal. And female.
The very sound of her voice is a response to the famous query attributed to Sojourner Truth: “Am I not a woman?” When Harris interrogates a witness, she also makes it clear that black women deserve honesty. When she talks about racial justice, it also requires gender equality. Her entire triumphant speech after she and Joe Biden became the predicted winners of the 2020 election was a declaration that things had finally changed.
One voice of a black woman speaks of centuries – as well as of many people.