A tale of two Kam(a)las
On Monday of this week the political fortunes of two female politicians, in two different countries went in opposite directions. In Trinidad and Tobago, Ms Kamla Persad-Bissessar, that country’s first and only female Prime Minister so far, failed in her bid to regain that post which she lost in 2015. Her United National Congress (UNC) lost the general elections, the second successive loss under her leadership and although she has not yet conceded defeat, it seems that her political future is a bleak one.
By contrast, in the United States, the fortunes of another Kamla, actually Kamala, took off in the opposite direction. On the same Monday, the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, former Vice President Joe Biden, named Ms Kamala Harris, a Senator representing California in the US Senate, as his choice as vice presidential candidate for the November 3 elections. Ms Harris has a proven successful track record and in addition, her ethnic background, of mixed Black and South Asian (Indian) origin made her an appropriate choice given the current mood of America.
It represents a strategic move by Biden to choose a woman of colour, a highly qualified one at that, as his running mate. The multi-racial ticket contrasts starkly with the white male image of the Trump-Pence Republican ticket which seems completely out of sync with the times. While other black women have attempted to be elected as either president or vice president in the past, none have succeeded. Among these have been the renowned female black activist and intellectual Angela Davis, a vice presidential candidate on the Communist party ticket in both 1980 and 1984.
Should the Biden/Harris combination win in November, she will make history in becoming the first female vice president ever in the US, the first black vice president (of any sex) and in addition the first Black female vice president of her great country. It will be a reaffirmation of a trend of qualified and highly articulate black women winning election to seats of power undreamt of just a few years ago. Today there are a number of black female mayors of major cities in the US including Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco. In addition black women are in the forefront of the struggle to end racism and seek the democratisation of American society.
Yet, while Harris’ choice as a vice presidential candidate is a major step forward, she faces formidable challenges.
America remains not only a racist society but a sexist one at that. Coincidentally, this year marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment to that country’s constitution allowing 26 million American women to vote for the first time in the US presidential elections of 1920. Sadly, but not surprisingly, that Amendment did not fully enfranchise Native American (indigenous) women, or women from Black, Asian and Hispanic backgrounds who had to continue to fight for the right to vote. That fight continues today after one century.
Ms Harris has proven to be a formidable, intelligent and competent fighter but she will now face the test of her life. However her candidacy will no doubt prove an inspiration to women and all people of colour to mobilize to get rid of the scourges of racism, discrimination and inequality which sit like a blight on American society.