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PILLAI: America’s first female president will be woman of color

Despite the prevailing American thought being that progress occurs one step at a time, the first female president will not be white, but a woman of color. – Photo by Kamala Harris / Facebook

In November 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was set to give an election victory speech under an actual glass ceiling at the Javits Center in New York City. The choice of this symbolic venue suggested confidence in Clinton’s path to the White House, and those now infamous polls seemed to say the same. 

When voters reflect on 2016, it seems that their vision of Clinton as the first female president was too ambitious. But, the reason behind her unexpected loss may have been the fact that this vision was not ambitious enough. 

As politicians and voters, we have deluded ourselves into thinking that it is an American tradition to take baby steps toward progress. After former President Barack Obama became the first Black president in 2008, American started thinking about the next milestone: a woman in the Oval Office. There was a tacit assumption that this woman would be white because it would be too presumptuous to break multiple barriers in terms of race and gender. 

Yet Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has done just that. As the first generation daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, Harris is the first Black and South Asian woman to become the vice presidential nominee in a major party ticket. 

Not only do hemispheres and ethnicities overlap in her identity, but also her education and experience in different levels of government are a testament to her rich, varied personal history. The rise of Harris would not be possible without the women who had the audacity to reach for their goals, even if the rest of the world had not caught up to them yet. 

Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for the presidency in 1872, in which she competed under the Equal Rights Party ticket. Even though women did not have the right to vote at the time, she was undeterred. Two women of color, Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Takemoto Mink, campaigned for the presidency in 1972. 

In 1952, Charlotta Spears Bass was the first Black female vice presidential nominee, while LaDonna Harris was the first Native American female vice presidential nominee in 1980. Even though these women fractured the glass ceiling decades ago, they have paved the way for the first female president. 

With their increasing political power, women of color can build upon their predecessors’ work to finally reach the highest office in the nation. Women of color make up approximately one-third of citizen voting-age women, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. The population of eligible female voters who identify as Latinx, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander is growing rapidly. 

Black women register and vote at higher rates than other groups, and they are particularly crucial to the Democratic voter base. Approximately 94 percent of Black women — a higher percentage than any other group — casted their ballots for Clinton in 2016, and Black women have been dynamic organizers in elections as well as civil rights, feminist and other movements. Their work in South Carolina and other key states carried former Vice President Joe Biden to the Democratic presidential nomination after he failed to secure sufficient support. 

With this much influence in American politics, women of color deserve to have a president who represents their identity, and they will make sure that they have such a president. 

Our first female president may be Harris, or she could be someone on Biden’s shortlist, such as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) or former National Security Advisor Susan Rice. She could be a grassroots organizer such as former Georgia State House of Representatives Minority Leader Stacey Abrams or a new face in politics such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). She could also be a Republican such as former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

In 2016, Clinton was the safe choice as a white woman, a time-tested politician and a former First Lady with a high profile. Despite these qualities, she could not galvanize enough voters to show up for her, especially in battleground states. Therefore, the choice that excites voters the most may be the one that seems the most daring. 

If there is anyone that knows how to make a daring statement, it is women of color. Society constantly tells them to wait for their turn, but they know that waiting for others’ acceptance is rarely an effective strategy for winning.

Women around the country will likely rejoice when our first female president is sworn in, no matter what her background is. But with their ever-growing strength and visibility, women of color in particular have a path to the Oval Office. 

Preanka Pillai is a Rutgers Business School sophomore majoring in marketing and business analytics and information technology. Her column, "Unboxed," runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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