Ring the Bells that Still Can Ring: Celebrating the First Woman of Color VP in the U.S.A
By Pooja Prema, Rites of Passage Project Founder & Artistic Director
For the first time ever, millions of Black and Brown women across the country see themselves reflected in their Vice President. Every Woman of Color in America celebrated that victory, we knew the layers of meaning It had to us, and to our Collective future. That afternoon, I felt grateful to be on a monthly zoom call with ROP Resilience Collective members. We looked into each other’s Black and Brown faces, and spoke about what this historic moment meant to each of us. In Kamala Harris we see a strong, courageous and independent woman who went for what she wanted in a what is still “a man’s world” of elite power and privilege, and a merging of two profound diasporas. There was grief & praise as we remembered how hard our respective ancestors fought so that this could happen.
At the same time, we also need to ask what it costs make it to the top of the power pyramid in one of the most massive capitalist empires on Earth. And whether the reality of Kamala Harris is really as liberative as we would want to believe.
On the one hand, a Woman of Color VP signals that change - at the level of culture - is possible.It means that a project like Rites of Passage might finally come to view in the eyes of people who have not been ready for something this deep. In the most optimistic view, Kamala opens the doors to people like myself to offer yet more radical critiques of the system as it is, as well as possibilities for collective reality beyond it.
On the other hand, changing the face of our players, does not change the game itself. We have to always ask of ourselves and of our leaders – “Can we effectively dismantle the Master’s house with the Master’s tools?” Audre Lorde wrote about this in her eloquent essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House”. For someone like Kamala Harris, the intention is not even to dismantle the house – whether we're talking about the deep-seated affair between State and corporations, the corrupt healthcare system, the military-industrial complex, or the electoral college. Rather, its to get more people that look like us in positions of power yet continue playing the game as usual. Meanwhile, people like myself want to actually take this house down, and stop playing this game all together. We see it as one in which no matter the positions of relative privilege – will always function as a hierarchy where a few people “win”/ succeed, and many, countless others lose/ struggle – so that those few can win. There are “Masters” and there are “servants”.
For every Kamala Harris, there are millions of women barely able to see past the edge of the 9 to 5, struggling to stretch limited means to create a lifestyle that's barely tenable. Will this election empower more of these women at bottom to re-envision a more equitable world? Maybe, but likely not. They are too busy trying to get through each day within a system that was only designed with them in mind as servants. Meanwhile it will continue fueling the mythos of America – “The American Dream” – that everyone here can create their dreams, even though that has never been true. One Black president or VP, is not a solution.
What is promising however, is the potential to change the structure of government by having exponentially more women in office each term at every level. What would this country be like if it was run by a majority of women, and people of color?
Women and BIPOC in power so have the potential to fundamentally reinvent the systems at play. However, in order to create real and lasting positive change in the lives of ordinary people, we need women and BIPOC in office who care about we the people, not just in lip service, but in action. In general, women in office, particularly non-Republican women, do seem to support policies like healthcare and welfare; and I believe that we have an increased capacity for empathy. However, far too many continue to reinforce the status quo in small and big ways, and this includes many whom we would like to think of as “progressive.”
Multiple members of the all-female front-facing Biden administration are women, which at first glance seems like a history-making accomplishment heralding a new era. On closer inspection however, we see that several of them do not support progressive politics. Being a feminist doesn’t just mean you support women. It means you support and actually embody and fight for a resurgence of Feminine values, which includes basics like liberty, safety, health, housing, a living wage, democratic process, and autonomy for all human AND non-human beings. Kamala is opens the door; to where is up to us.