When Kamala Devi Harris inspired girls with her post-election speeches, little did she realise that a ‘’skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother’’ would be reciting a powerful poem that would not only resonate in the heart of the first woman vice-president, and across a deeply divided America, but that her profound phrases would ring in the ears of billions of people worldwide.
Just before President Joe Biden took the sacred oath and was sworn in as the 46th president, the nation’s first youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman recited The Hill We Climb.
At 22, the Los Angeles feminine-diaspora issue activist hit the right notes and buttons: a super-confident nation under siege of right-wing white domestic terrorism, religious right, perennial racism, social prejudices and cultural discrimination, grinding socio-economic poverty, homelessness, joblessness – defined by inequities and anomalies – and countless other inbred and myopic prejudices and fears. It was barely healing from a bloody insurrection at the same spot where her black gurus, Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, had addressed the chequered country from its temple of democracy, social justice and human rights – Capitol Hill.
Nor did Vice-President Harris realise that she would be the first recipient of a prized presidential pen when President Biden signed a raft of executive orders – undoing his peeved predecessor’s controversial decisions since 2016.
Not quite hawkishly, Harris cast a diligent eye as Biden scribbled his million dollar signature on the pile of documents of getting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue working again and the White House press room reopened again. The presidential pen is gifted to vice-presidents and authors of progressive new bills or amendments at the Oval Office.
So, how did a ‘’skinny Black girl’’ walking the beaches of her mother’s ancestral village in Thulasendrapuram, south India, and blending her father’s Caribbean culture of Jamaica, with her visionary forebears, get to become the second most powerful leader in the world, the first woman vice-president in 244 years, and first politician of Indian-African heritage, and occupy the highest office?
Let us remember what our own yesterday’s political prisoner, today’s president, first black head of state and commander-in-chief told us: ‘’It always seems impossible until it’s done.’’
It is Mission Impossible ahead for an outspoken attorney-general and senator as she weaves her student activism, college education and legal and political experience to complement Biden’s 50 years in public-service politics: at 56, one of the two daughters of Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris, the California-born VP has age, enthusiasm and passion on her side.
Biden has big fish to fry. Harris could tour Africa’s virgin territories bypassed by diplomats for the big- catch countries to shore up the seas of economic and trading hotspots.
Within the next four years, the exotic Indian Ocean Rim and the breathtaking breeze of the Caribbean beckons the ambassador-at-large to pay us a royal visit:
* Durban, home to 1,4-million Indians where east meets west across the African diaspora is a great port of call; Cape Town and Pretoria a must for business;
* Kenya, Zambia, then shoot off to Mauritius – India’s favourite child – and Seychelles;
* Then a touchdown in New Delhi and a romantic reunion with Jewish husband, Doug Emhoff, at the Taj Mahal – seating for two on the iconic concrete bench that Princess Diana famously graced.
With the changing of the guard at the embassies with new ambassadors and diplomats, the star-spangled red carpet has been ordered, Madam Vice-President.
* Marlan Padayachee is a veteran journalist and heads a media communication strategy, publishing and research consultancy.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.