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  • Writer's pictureVânia Penha-Lopes

BIDEN 46th + HARRIS 1st

A few weeks ago, President Trump declared that New York was deserted due to the covid-19 pandemic and that the city was “a disaster.” Definitely, that is not what we saw on November 7, 2020, the day when Joe Biden was confirmed as president-elect, thanks to the Electoral College votes he garnered in Pennsylvania. At Times Square and throughout the city, people congregated (with masks on), honked their horns, sang, danced, laughed, and cried. President Trump, a native New Yorker who changed his residence to Florida, was golfing in Virginia in between allegations of election fraud.

The election of the 46th president of the United States stands out in two main points: it broke the record of most votes ever cast and it put a woman in the White House as vice-president. If that were not emblematic enough in the hundredth anniversary of the granting of suffrage to (White) women, Kamala Harris, the vice-president elect, is also the first Afro-Indian American citizen to occupy such a high post. Like former president Obama before her, Harris is the child of a Black immigrant father; unlike Obama’s, her mother was also an immigrant. What the two have in common is that their parents met and fell in love while attending U.S. universities. To elect a child of immigrants to the White House at a time when immigration restrictions have been more than hinted at makes one believe that the majority of U.S. voters were unhappy about the direction that the country was headed.

Also for the first time in U.S. history, there will be a “second gentleman” instead of a “second lady.” Douglas Emhoff, a visible and enthusiastic presence in his wife’s campaign, brings an extra first of his own: he is Jewish. Religious diversity in the White House is significant. Since the “Founding Fathers,” Christianity has been the religion of all U.S. presidents. Let us not forget that Joe Biden is only the second Catholic to be elected president, and that it took 60 years for that to happen again. When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, much was made of his Catholicism, which for many was proof that he would only follow the Pope and was thus untrustworthy. That Biden’s religion was barely mentioned during his campaign is a sign of change.

Millions of U.S. citizens have clamored for change. Still, millions have also voted for the maintenance of the status quo. The country is divided over issues of race, gender, and the economy, something that racial, ethnic, and gender diversity alone cannot fix. Let us not forget that the country had eight years of racial diversity in the White House, only to be followed by a government with strong ties to racism, sexism, and xenophobia. If change is really to come, the country must be willing to grapple with the fact that it was born with the dichotomy of equality versus inequality. The millions of votes cast amid a pandemic leads me to believe that, although racism is a reality, there are plenty of people who want to confront it. Let us also recall that, historically, every effort to tackle racism in the U.S. has been interracial. Biden’s past—as the vice-president of the first Black U.S. president—and his present—as the first president with a Black vice-president—raises hope that the candid conversation that should have happened in 1865 (end of the Civil War), 1877 (end of the Reconstruction),1965 (Voting Rights Act), and 2008 (Obama's first election) will finally take place.

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