Historical, Not Political
November 16, 2020
As a non-profit, the law tells us we must avoid taking political stances, specifically avoiding endorsing candidates for office. And ethically, we know the importance of apparent impartiality, given the multiple levels of power dynamics intrinsic in educational institutions. As my faculty must necessarily be protected from me telling, encouraging, or insinuating to them whom they should vote for in an election, so too their students must necessarily be protected in the same way. Everyone needs to be able to have their own political inclinations and not be intimidated, when coming to work or school, that those inclinations might put their success (be it employment or grades) at risk.
So bringing up the apparent election of Kamala Harris as Vice President might seem political—even my use of the word “apparent” might be interpreted by some as a political statement. I mention it here not to be so, but rather to mark a moment in history. Regardless of how all of the political wranglings in the Capitol sort out over the next two months, that Kamala Harris might serve as the next Vice President of the United States is such a stunning historical moment, it practically takes my breath away. My grandmother turned voting age when, due to the time in our country’s history, she was not allowed to vote because she was a woman. Women’s Suffrage had yet to become a reality, and while it was just around the corner, she herself was told “No.” Knowing her as a child and early adolescent, this is impossible for me to imagine. She was loving and lovely, but she was simply not one to be told.
I called my mother late last week when the story being told on many outlets was that Harris might have been elected. She just turned 86 and it’s the time of the pandemic. To say that I’m not aware of her mortality would simply be a lie, and all the more I felt glad for her that in her life at last she was seeing the real possibility of a woman, an Indian woman, a Black woman, a bi-racial woman being elected. Simply put, I would not have wanted her to miss it. When we spoke, she explained that she was thrilled by Harris; however, my mother added she did not feel that she herself had been limited by systemic sexism. My mother went to Smith College and has recounted the story over the years that there they were told “You can do anything,” to which she adds, “And we did!” She helped lead the gender integration nationally in the Episcopal Church, advocated for lay professionals in the workplace, was a member of the Commission on Women, led trainings and workshops nationally as a consultant, and—were she to bother to assemble it—would have a CV a mile long. And we did.
While I wanted to share the moment with my mother, it wasn’t because the perhaps-eminent arrival of Harris was righting a historical wrong, but because it was my mother (along with countless peers and other women over the generations, across racial, religious, and socio-economic bounds) tirelessly worked to right the wrong, setting the stage so that Kamala Harris could—through her own tireless work—claim the legitimate right to run for Vice President and, regardless of your own politics, lay some claim to consideration for that office right now. I am humbled to be alive at this historical turn. I am humbled by my mother, her sister, her mother, my wife, my sisters, my nieces, my colleagues: activists, leaders, shapers of change, benders of society for the good, for the better.
And we did.
Dexter P. Mahaffey, Ph.D., Head of School