Chlöe Edwards is smiling an inside out kind of smile that makes her brown face glow.
She’s only 10 years old. Her ambition is to become an interior designer, but to her, seeing Kamala Harris elected Madam Vice President is a celebration.
“I don’t know much about all of that stuff, but I think we need more people like her as president and vice president,” she told me. “Maybe some other people think girls aren’t the right leaders for this country. But we are. We’re just better.”
Her dad, a friend of mine, laughed and said he affirms his Westford fifth grader with girl power every day. Our children are growing up while we fight white supremacy and coronavirus at the same time.
It’s been 100 years since white women could vote. It’s been 55 years since The Voting Rights Act of 1965. And in 231 years of American presidencies, a woman –– a Black woman, a child of a Jamaican immigrant and a South Asian immigrant –– will be vice president for the first time.
Thinking about all the brown & black girls who will see themselves in @KamalaHarris and will grow up knowing that they can be anything. #MadamVicePresident pic.twitter.com/QPO9gBHZKy— Opal Vadhan (@OpalVadhan) November 7, 2020
And after four years of a racist in office, change feels a little more possible. From Boston Common to California’s Sunset Boulevard, people partied in the streets. Around the world, people sighed in relief. Paris rang bells. London set off fireworks.
The truth is, things are still horrifying. I was nervous to delight in the moment. A long uphill battle is ahead of us, littered with racism, violence, and inequities. As Dave Chappelle so poignantly pointed out on “Saturday Night Live,” we have to fight through that pain and anguish.
“You gotta find a way to find joy in your existence despite that feeling,” he said. That part: joy. We need joy to survive.
To Chlöe, a Madam Vice President-elect of color should encourage everyone.
“I think it’s important for Black and brown people to be in that position so other Black and brown people get inspired to one day be in that position. And other people need to know we can do anything we put our minds to, not just them, but us and other people of color, too."
The power of representation is real. Harris understands the responsibility. It’s in the words she chooses, her marching band dances, the names she amplifies, and the hard pauses she takes when she notes Black women. It radiates in her love for her sorors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the way she wraps her arms around her alma mater of Howard and all HBCUs. Ushering her grand-nieces to the forefront of the stage Saturday night? These are love languages for a people who have gone ignored by a country they are tasked to save.
Policy has to be a love language, too. She’s more moderate than liberal. And she cannot speak for every Black and brown person. Still, that Black vision Chappelle referenced? The way Black folk see certain things due to a shared lived experience in this country? Her sight may not be 20/20, but yes, she sees us. We’ll fight to build a clearer collective picture.
I saw her speak at Essence Fest 2019 in New Orleans. She lifted the names of our great elders, from Sojourner Truth to Shirley Chisholm. “Black women have always built the future we can see," she said. She noted “When we lift Black America, we lift America.”
Later that night, Mary J. Blige would lift our spirits and sing to our souls.
Here we are, over a year later. And when Harris stepped onto stage to address the public in her new role, Madam Vice President walked out to Mary J. Blige’s “Work That.”
Feelin' great because the light’s on me
Celebrating the things that everyone told me
Would never happen but God has put his hands on me
And ain’t a man alive could ever take it from me
Chin up, we were taught. Because America will beat you down while asking you to hold its hand.
Harris, a Black woman representing many marginalized identities, has already been targeted by trolls –– including the one in the White House.
“You know what? People don’t like her," Donald Trump said at a rally in September. "Nobody likes her. She could never be the first woman president. She could never be. That would be an insult to our country.”
Why, because the Black women who work tirelessly to keep America moving forward, inch by hard fought inch, scare supremacists?
Sorry not sorry, Trump. Ain’t no stopping her or us now. Saturday night, Harris helped a bunch of girls, boys, and them hold their heads high.
“And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition. Lead with conviction. And see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before, but know we will applaud you every step of the way.”
Ava, 16, the daughter of a colleague, wasn’t old enough to vote. But she volunteered, made calls, and donated her hard-earned money to the campaign. Seeing Harris as vice president-elect has been an emotional roller coaster.
“I feel like we can have the first good day in like four years," she said from her bedroom in Rhode Island. “Hopefully she is going to be the first of many and I think representation is just so important because identity is so deeply intertwined with policy. I know you’re not supposed to love politicians, but like, let me have this moment.”
Harris and Biden aren’t as progressive as she’d like, but their win signals a reason to feel empowered.
“We did the best we could with who we had and now we’re going to at least start to move forward from the awful damage that the Trump administration has caused,” she said. “It’s less about the politicians themselves and more about us as the people. We did this.”
Madam vice president-elect knows it, too.
“For four years, you marched and organized for equality and justice for our lives and for our planet and then you voted,” Harris said. “And you delivered a clear message –– you chose hope and unity, decency, science, and yes, truth."
But do we know, as Dave Chappelle mentioned on “SNL,” how to survive ourselves? Half the country is inspired and ready to fight for what can be, the other half is hungry for a country that places the comfort of a few over equity for all.
We don’t have to just save the soul of our nation. There is a hole in it.
Ava doesn’t remember everything about 2016, but there is one thing she says stuck with her back then when she was 12-years-old.
“I just remember feeling like I had lost that day, like this is not democracy,” she said. "People say we can’t change the old system. Don’t tell me we can’t update the rules when you update your software once a week.”
The time for change was yesterday, last year, hundreds of years ago. Which means, as James Baldwin knew, the time for change is always now. One election isn’t our answer. But it’s a stop and a little momentum for this long ride we call revolution. It’s OK to take a deep breath and smile at the change of pace as the work continues.
“Protecting our democracy takes struggle,” Harris said. “It takes sacrifice, but there is joy in it. And there is progress because we the people have the power to build a better future."
Celebrate. It’s necessary fuel for the fight ahead. Joy: a power tool of survival.
Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.