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Election of Kamala Harris to U.S. vice-presidency ‘the beginning of something important,’ say women of colour

When the U.S. election was called for Joe Biden last Saturday and it became clear Kamala Harris would be the next vice-president of the U.S., Annamie Paul thought of the importance of the moment for her 84-year-old mother.

“I don’t think she ever believed that she would live to see this day,” said the recently elected leader of the Green Party, the first Black woman to head up a Canadian federal party.

“Where her daughter would be representing a national party in Canada and a Black woman would be the vice-president of the United States, and [that] one day, we might meet and shake hands and talk public policy together.”

Those things seemed impossible just a short time ago, Paul said. 

“Whenever a woman of colour is elected to an office that she has never occupied, it’s really not an overstatement to say that it makes people dream,” she said.

While she might not always agree with Harris’s policies, Paul said, the “more women that you see like her and me in politics, the more people come to understand that we don’t just speak with one voice, we represent many points of view.” 

‘One day we might meet and shake hands and talk public policy together,’ said New Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, pictured in Ottawa last month. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A powerful symbol

For many women of colour, Harris’s victory serves as an inspiration, said former provincial politician Yolande James, the first Black woman elected to Quebec’s National Assembly in 2004.

“A lot of women, a lot of Black women, in particular, can speak to the struggle of knowing what it is to be talented, to be qualified and to be overlooked,” said James.

While Harris’s win won’t fix everything about gender and race discrimination, she said, seeing her on stage on Saturday delivering her first speech as vice-president-elect was a powerful symbol.

“It’s one thing to say that it’s possible, but when you see her, it’s like, now you know it,” she said.

WATCH | Kamala Harris’s win shows what’s possible:

For Canadian women and girls of colour, including politicians, Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and South Asian woman elected U.S. vice-president is a source of hope, excitement and shows what is possible. 2:23

Pivotal moment for women, girls

In her victory speech in Wilmington, Del., Harris evoked the generations of women who paved the way for her and those who will follow.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last,” she told the cheering crowd.

Those words gave Kamal Khera, Liberal MP for Brampton West, goosebumps.

“It’s a pivotal moment for women and girls all around the globe, especially those that are racialized and specifically Black and South Asian women,” she said in an interview from her constituency office in Brampton, Ont.

Vice-president-elect Harris, left, and president-elect Joe Biden are pictured on Saturday in Wilmington, Del. (Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP Photo)

‘Representation matters’

When Khera was elected in 2015 at age 26, she was the youngest member of the Liberal caucus. That, along with being a South Asian woman, made for a challenging experience early on, she said.

“I didn’t have that many women to look up to or that looked like me in those leadership roles,” she said.

“That is why I think representation matters.”

While things have improved in the House of Commons since then, Khera said, there is still a lot of work to do. She said she hopes Harris’s win is a step toward better representation around the world.

WATCH | Women react to news that Kamala Harris will be the new U.S. vice-president:

Diverse American women describe what it means to them to have Kamala Harris elected as the first female vice president of the United States. 2:37

‘The beginning of something important’

When teacher Sabrina Jafralie heard about Harris’s win, she was sitting in her car in Montreal, full of cautious optimism and a feeling she was “floating on air.”

“As a mom, as a teacher, as a human, it’s amazing,” she said. “It felt heavy, and now I feel lighter.”

Sabrina Jafralie is an ethics and religious teacher at Westmount High School. She hopes her students will be similarly inspired and, seeing Harris, recognize their own potential to achieve. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Jafralie teaches at Westmount High, the same school Harris attended as a teen while her mother taught at McGill University and did research at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. Harris graduated from the high school in 1981.

Like Harris, one of Jafralie’s parents is Black and the other is Indian. Seeing someone who looks like her in such a significant role is a major milestone, she said.

“It makes me wonder, maybe I should become the minister of education. It’s very, very inspiring.”

Jafraliee hopes her students at Westmount High will be similarly inspired and, seeing Harris, recognize their own potential to achieve.

“I want to tell them it’s not a one-off,” she said. “If anything, it’s the beginning of something important.”

WATCH | Friends react to Harris’s historic rise to the White House:

Wanda Kagan has known vice president-elect Kamala Harris for nearly 40 years. Kagan says that in their most recent conversation, Harris credited her for inspiring her career path. 4:35


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