By Helen Osborn
My daughter's skin is darker than mine. Her genetics include a long line of proud Hispanic men and women and mine trace solely back to Western Europe. Her eyes are the most vibrant brown, reminding me of the lines in the center of a mahogany tree, strong and full of secrets. Her dark hair hangs in a thick curtain, and the density of the darkness shimmers when she moves. When she steps outside in the sunlight, it looks like the sun is dancing across her skin, and I couldn't imagine a jewel that would complement her better than the rays falling around her. She is Morena, and she is so proud of the heritage that makes her beautiful, as am I.
While I am proud of my daughter’s unique beauty, it has become a burden for her. We almost always get the double-take. "This is your daughter?" As if I forgot who she might be and decided to pick a person out of the crowd. We share my very Scandinavian last name and people often question her, "That’s your last name?" As if she might have mispronounced her own name. My daughter is hyper-aware of how she looks compared to her mother, and this awareness has made her strong; stronger than a young lady should have to be. She carries this strength in her jaw and when her pride is wounded, her jaw lengthens and pulsates with anger, a tell that perhaps only a mother would notice. My daughter's skin color is a visual depiction of her story. Being Morena, she has unique life experiences that allow her to approach adversities with a different viewpoint than others. Even still, the way she looks should not define her, but sometimes it can certainly get her jaw moving.
While she lives her life very aware of the color of her skin and her gender, stemming from the curiosity of people she meets, my daughter has learned to smile and shrug any un-comfortableness off-- as if their inquisition were a first-- and only the most observant would note the lengthening of her jawline. It’s not only the questions. She watches music videos, movies, and Tik Toks, all while comparing her skin color, her name, and the length of her hair to the history behind the women she sees on the screen.
However, the reality my daughter is going to live in has changed. The second most powerful person in the world is a female and she is brown. Suddenly, someone who looks like my daughter is a role model outside of movies, Tik Toks, and the music videos. All across the country, little girls' eyes are tilted upward toward a screen, and finally, they see someone who looks like them, sounds like them, thinks like them, answers questions like them, and most importantly, has a strong jawline like them. Someone who shares their experience in dealing with a world that can, at times, care more about the way they look than what they can accomplish or how they think.
Their mothers sit next to them, their eyes equally turned up, locked on the screen as Madam Vice President places her hand on a Bible and unites women from both sides of the line. To some, all that matters at that moment is the potential on the screen. Mrs. Harris no longer has to explain her name or answer questions explaining how she is related to the children in her blended family. The weight of “Madam Vice President,” as it settles through the world, seems sufficient authority to answer all inquiries.
Madam Vice President, with my daughter watching your every move, I beg of you, excel. You were not entitled to win because you are brown or because you are female. You won because you are intelligent and you work hard. There is a place amongst the world's leaders for you. There are women that see themselves in you. Instead of facing closed doors, women now see those doors vanishing; they’re watching glass ceilings turn to dust. There is a demand for equality. We will not celebrate your role because you are female or because you are brown. Your gender and physical appearance alone are not sufficient to demand authority and a seat at the table. Your accomplishment is celebrated because your talent and drive has led you to the table, despite being female and brown.
American political architecture has changed. Instead of religion, upbringing, and assimilation, what matters is talent, work ethic, and grind. This change in politics has led the everyday American to understand that physical traits are not what should and will define us; it is our capabilities, our abilities to endure and remain focused, that will lead to success.
It is likely that some women won’t agree with your policy choices. They don't have to. Even though I did not cast a vote for you, Madam Vice President, I value you. That is the power of what you have done. When there is policy disagreement, there is no longer any excuse to prevent women from righting the wrongs they find in the world. When the world shifted for my daughter after the election of Madam Vice President, the questions transitioned from who my daughter’s parents are or why her last name is what it is, and transformed into questions of what she is capable of and what will she accomplish. Gender, familial relationship and skin color are no longer appropriate to inquire upon; rather, talent, intelligence, and a strong work ethic are what matter.
However, the change you have brought forth comes with a heavy burden. You cannot fail or stop moving forward, to do so would rebuild those ceilings that would limit the authority a woman might have, a limit for the change a woman can effect. The ceilings would be stronger this time, with precedent to how a brown female tried and did not succeed. Whether you intended it or not, for now, you represent every candidate that will come after you. You are a sitting embodiment of what is possible—you cannot allow that to be taken away.
I know a certain Morena that has high aspirations for herself. If you do not lead effectively, if you do not leave the office better than you found it, it is my daughter who will be set back. It is all of the little girls who had their eyes glued to the screen who will have a bigger obstacle to overcome because you must be more than just a nod to the female accomplishment. You must be the proof that women should have had a seat at the table all along.
The views expressed in this guest article do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of The Civility Initiative. The purpose of guest articles is to to help our readers see more fully understand current issues from as many different vantage points as possible.
About the Author: Helen Osborn is a proud mother. She hopes to see her daughter live in a country that realizes its potential and removes many of the existing barriers for women and minorities alike through greater awareness of societal discriminatory issues currently present in the United States.