Nikai Mackie began her Saturday morning like many teenagers, by checking Instagram. This morning, the dawning of her 17th year, her feed buzzed with excitement: Kamala Harris, vice president-elect.
“A good birthday present,” Mackie said. “Relief.”
And for the first time, Mackie, a young Black woman, saw someone who looks like her elected to one of the two highest positions in government.
“It feels really good to see myself in someone who is so high in leadership, and I feel like we’ve come really far in history,” said Mackie, a junior at Interlake High School in Bellevue. “Remarkable moment.”
For a majority of Americans, the election of Harris — a woman who is both Indian American and Black — represents the first time someone who shares a core aspect of their identity will serve in the second-highest office in government. The news of her election resonated with cheers and celebration in communities across Seattle on Saturday.
Harris’ ascendance represented hopes realized and dreams hatched.
“On Vice President-elect Harris’s very capable shoulders rests the stories of Black Americans, Indian Americans, women, and first generation Americans,” said Lalita Uppala, executive director of the India Association of Western Washington. “She is the personification of a country telling our community, ‘you belong here.’ ”
For Uppala, Harris’ reference to “my chitthis” during the Democratic National Convention was a significant moment. “Chitthi” is a Tamil word, for a mother’s younger sister.
“When she referred to her chitthis, her aunts, as who she looked up to, that really addressed the strong values she stands for and the diversity she embraces with that,” Uppala said.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat in Washington’s 7th congressional district, said Harris’ election was a “meaningful moment in history” for women and people of color.
“We have not only shattered ceilings, but we have constructed a different path for so many millions of people across the country as they imagine their own futures,” Jayapal said in a statement.
“I knew that one day this would happen,” said Rita Green, education chair for the NAACP of Alaska, Oregon and Washington. “Black women are the highest-educated population in the country. You don’t hear that. We are always told how we’re less than.”
“We’re used to being kicked down, but we keep fighting,” she said.
It also means “a lot of pressure is on Kamala — how she acts, the relationships she builds, what she portrays to the public. That’s going to be cast down on Black women and Indian [American] women too,” Green said. “What she portrays, that’s going to impact a lot of women.”
Jayapal tweeted a video of herself dancing with a makeshift drum of kitchen utensils. Uppala said she too wished everyone could come together and have a Bhangra (a type of joyful dance) dance party.
“Being mindful of quarantine, I know we will dance on our driveways,” she joked.
Mackie, a songwriter and poet who hopes to attend New York University, has sharpened her leadership skills at Young Women Empowered, a community organization that aims to elevate the voices of youth who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. She views her “fight” for marginalized communities, and herself, as one that will be lifelong.
Harris’ election means “a big leadership role seems attainable,” she said.
She thinks Harris will bring more empathy to governing, as someone who can see the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change on people of color.
And she hopes those who are younger remember this moment, too.
“I would encourage little Black girls to step into their leadership and to look up to noble Black women leaders,” Mackie said.
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