By C. Chandrawala
Let me just begin by saying that I’m probably not approaching this right. You’re probably right, and I should probably demand more of the candidate I would hope to represent me. Because if anyone should exhibit perfect judgement at all times, it should be the people that govern us right?
But here’s the thing, I’m not quite sold on the anarchy bit yet. Nor am I ready to invest my meagre democratic chips into believing that there’s some benevolent King Solomon-type character, whose moral compass is the stuff of mythic tales. Because at the end of the day, those tales are after all just myths. Even Akbar had his concubines.
Act I: The Moral Compass of Mythic Tales
So it seems when it comes to social organization, one has to come to terms a bit with picking our poisons. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t push for the least damaging among them, but the thing about this little pseudo-democratic-capitalistic system we chose to call home, is that at present, it governs everything. From the type of yogurt I get at the grocery store to how long I have to wait at the red light before it turns green on the way there. And if this system governs everything, then that begets 3 questions:
Am I really ready to yell “anarchy” as I rip down the stop signs and play “Bastille” on repeat because that’s the closest I’m willing to get to a revolution of any sort?
And once that hour has passed, what happens next? Because I have to say, toppling towers is great until someone notices the vacuum left in its place.
And most importantly, am I ready to sacrifice what little say I might have in my own life’s governance because I want to demand sainthood from my candidate, while the rest are barely demanding sanity from theirs?
But wait, before we tear down the ramparts, let’s take this back a few notches and consider how we got here. Enter, Kamala Harris, Candidate Ordinaire.
Act II: Through The Gauntlet
On August 11th, the news broke that Biden had chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate, and it was termed “groundbreaking.” Why? Put very simply, Kamala is a WoC. And WoCs, or women of any minority community, in any political arena around the world, are a rare find. So one can understand that having a woman from a minority community (two, actually) stand as a Vice Presidential Candidate, is the political equivalent of finding a unicorn. Sure, in theory, it could exist - but none of us were expecting one to actually materialize. The key thing to note here, is that WoC or Women of Minority Communities in politics are phenomenally low in supply. Case in point, Kamala is presently the only black woman in the US Senate. Out of 100 Senators. So yes, when it comes to WoC political representatives, one might say we’re still in the prototype phase. And while the supply runs low, is it strategic then to put those few options we have through the gauntlet? What if they don’t make it through? What we are left with in real terms in the exact same systematic issue we have been trying to fix for a long time - politics remains an old white man’s game. Or, in the context of the east, an old community-of-power’s game.
And while we’re here, let’s consider that system. In a system which unquestionably credits white males, in a system which clearly makes every effort to sideline people of colour, where every tier is further defined by its homogenous whiteness, is it fair or ethical to hold the past policies of WoC to the same standard we hold white males?
Or is it at all possible to recognize that WoC may have had to face different decisions in their careers as WoCs than the average white male? Because in a world where women are more likely than men to get fired for staying home with a sick child, and in a world where leaders of communities of colour are relegated to solely advocacy and NGO streams of work, I’m not sure I believe that a 1990’s Californian Kamala would have possibly achieved any headway in her career had she not made those same choices. Let’s not forget that the rise of AOC was only possible in a post-Obama social-media equity-not-equality world. Does that make Kamala the strongest testament to moral high ground? No. Does it exclude her from criticism? No. But does it make her a candidate who is better able to speak to the experience of communities of colour than the average white male in politics? Yes. And does it make her accountable and capable of fixing a system she is deeply entrenched within? Also Yes. So why are we willing to demand so much of her, when so little is being demanded of everyone else?
We all know that Kamala has her issues. There’s her record on crime (and non-crime) and her stance on law enforcement. She’s already made a few classic campaign turn-arounds, most notably in voicing her support for the women who accused Biden of sexual assault, while also accepting a VP nomination as his running mate. To say that she is a flawed candidate is putting it, well, accurately. But I find myself asking, would a white man have been challenged as strongly on these points? So even in our own estimation as progressives, In a world where everything from global health norms, to cosmetic products, to governance structures, are predicated on white norms - does Kamala’s pigment count for something? Yes. It doesn’t undo 500 years of colonization and euro-centrist socio-cultural imperialism of the past millennia, but hey - perhaps that’s too much to place on the shoulders of one solitary person? Surely, we each have our role to play. And so what exactly is Kamala’s role? And what exactly is mine?
The key here is not to see Kamala as the finish line - this isn’t our last stand, or our only shot, we have to see this for what it is - a first step. If anything, the push for greater equality has always better resembled a relay than a sprint. And Kamala just might be what’s needed to carry that baton a few steps further.
Act III: Unto The Breach
I know that at this point, you think I’m being too easy on her, but here’s the thing - left-leaning politics has long suffered from being too hard on itself. The year 2018 saw the dawn of the “woke” era, and as a left-leaning progressive myself, I loved it. Everything being turned on its head, people finally questioning the foundations we ought to have started questioning a long time ago. Cultural appropriation and BLM may have existed five years ago, but they weren’t recognized at a level of being part of mainstream dialogue until 2014 had come to a close and the whole world had collectively suffered from being incapable of getting Uptown Funk out of its head.
These issues are not recent, but the dialogue about them is, and holding 1990 Kamala accountable to the social norms of 2020 feels like a plot line that even Christopher Nolan would argue is a bit of a stretch.
The past five years has seen a significant evolution in how we understand vulnerabilities, how we respond to oppression. But let’s not confuse evolution with revolution. It's as though with every new word that's been added to the dictionary in these past years - ‘intersexual’, ‘safe space’, ‘fake news,’ ‘snowflake’, ‘mansplaining,’ we've somehow pushed the word 'compromise' closer to the its eviction from the discourse altogether. In the insta-generation, our refusal to accept anything that isn’t an insta-change might be what holds us back from making slower changes happen altogether. Because while we wait for the perfect candidate, while we sacrifice countless good candidates just because ‘they don’t meet the bar’, the world keeps turning. Oppressive systems keep growing, and power vacuums keep being filled by candidates who don’t recognize PoC as a community altogether, let alone ‘knowing the issues’ or fighting for them. Perhaps it’s time that we question whether no one is meeting the bar because, like the ultimate desi-parent who won’t accept anything short of 100%, perhaps we’re setting the bar too high and refusing to acknowledge the smaller gains we stand to make.
In our arbitrary efforts to out-woke one another, are we sacrificing the very stitches that have bridged the communities of our social fabric? Are we hastening to disintegrate those strands which are striving to hold us all together?
Because this may not be “the most important election yet,” but running on the heels of nearly 200,000 covid deaths in the US alone, half the country burning, and the other half under water, it may very well be one of the most important elections our generation has ever witnessed. This isn’t a conversation you’re having at Comicon about whether Batman or Superman is better. Maybe we’ll find those later and prep them to bid for 2024, but right now, all we have are these guys. There is no option for “please let us know if none of these options are suitable, and we’ll come back to you with better options.”
This election is real. The results will manifest themselves almost as quickly as the winners are announced, and I’m not sure that we have the privilege of squandering what little opportunity we have to direct that outcome.
Come November, there will only be two options to choose from - Trump/Pence or Biden/Kamala. There is no option for “please let us know if none of these options are suitable, and we’ll come back to you with better options.” In this venue of civic engagement (of which there are many) - this is the only choice we have.
And this is where I have to point out that this is not the only forum for civic engagement. The thing I love about American Politics is the way it rushes to a grand finale. We approach each political campaign season like an Avengers movie. Like once the election happens, the big showdown takes place, the victor emerges, and the movie is done. Turn on the lights and roll the credits. So we put all our chips into voting for the “right person.”
But that’s not how democracy works. Keep your causes, your issues, your ideas for how we build from here. Guard those with everything you have, because once the election is over, that’s when it’ll be the time to have that conversation. That’s when we get on with the actual work of fixing the things that are broken - and my oh my, what a great many there are. That’s where the engagement part of civic engagement resides - in the dash between the elections.
Act IV: The Curtains Fall
The thing you have to ask yourself is when the vote closes, the curtains fall, and the lights come up, is the administration that’s in power going to be one that is civil at all - are they going to even marginally listen to what you have to say, allow for peaceful protests and recognize community needs? Or is it going to be Trump? Perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but you know, in today’s circumstances, perhaps we could all use a little more hope.