Notes from America’s 2021 Presidential Inauguration
At last weeks presidential inauguration, Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office and made history yet again in her professional career, however, this defining moment is different because it represents the rejection of the deification of the American Framers who are most often referred to as the Founding Fathers.
Over the course of American history we have made the men who crafted this country gods. Critique of them or the institutions they created is met with hostility and the assumption that one is not a patriot. This oxymoronic stance has always confused me as the Framers were adamant about the protection of free speech, with political speech being the most guarded.
I have always rejected naming the Framers the Fathers because if they are categorized as such, then they have birthed a White supremacist child. A child that was on full display on January 6, as Trump supporters stormed the state capital in an attempt to protest a lawful election in which their candidate lost.
Their insurrectionist tantrum, coupled with the lack of police violence used at last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, was proof that our country constantly denies equal rights to people they have deemed unworthy. This is why White supremacists consistently participate in the dehumanization of people the Framers categorized as ‘other’ to justify their subjugation.
In the Photo: (Left) A woman is treated by her peers after being pepper-sprayed by police during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. Photo Credit: Reuters. In the Photo: (Right) A police officer stands-off with Trump supporters who stormed the state capital on January 6. Photo Credit: Getty Images.
Data from exit polls provided by CNN show that 87% of Black people voted for Joe Biden, and 90% of Black women secured victory for the Biden-Harris ticket. This was further evident when Stacey Abrams helped to flip the Southern state of Georgia Blue; producing its first Black United States Senator, Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock.
This is the cornerstone of what VP Harris is up against; the perpetual subjugation of a people deemed unworthy and unfit to hold the office she now does. Her essence requires us to reexamine our countries imperfect compromises in the quest to become a more perfect union. Her being is uniquely other and cannot neatly fit into established boxes.
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As a child of immigrant parents she is as quintessentially American as the Framers and their families who immigrated from Europe. Because she is Black, she is tied to the transatlantic slave trade; a tradition upheld by the Framers with nine of the first fifteen presidents being slaveholders themselves. Because she is female, she puts to rest Abigail Adams greatest fear — the Framers forgetting the ladies.
Her success in this very moment is celebrated because she was underestimated due to her designed otherness. Her record-breaking career is due in part to the deification of the White men who founded this country and required her to over-perform just to be considered.
President Joe Biden in many ways plays a conflicting role in her presence. In some ways, he mirrors the country’s Framers by being a White Anglo-Saxon. Biden’s faith as a Catholic and his heritage as Irish has allowed him to benefit from the institutions built by the Framers, while simultaneously being othered for his lack of Protestantism. He represents the beautiful struggle we call American democracy, a place that believes in the natural rights of man, but subsequently struggles to provide those rights equally.
Together, President Biden and VP Harris take the helm of a country deeply divided, with some excited about the actualization that all men are created equal, and some frightened about the privilege they must relinquish.
The nation has asked an elderly White man and a middle-aged Black woman to steer the country back to the intentions of the Framers, while simultaneously acknowledging the frailties of those men.
In the Video: Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history reads her poem “The Hill We Climb” to audiences during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Video Credit: Youtube.
Making the Framers gods denies the evolution of American democracy and denies the benefits of diversity, which produced VP Harris. Deification requires strict obedience, and Harris’ ambition coupled with her demand that a system and set of institutions not created for her hear her in exchange for that obedience has been masterful.
Such a demand was evident in her most poignant statement at the October, 2020 Vice Presidential debate when she stated, “I’m speaking”. This simple statement is so profound because it acknowledges that an institution previously represented by Mike Pence must listen if it expects continued compliance.
VP Harris speaking truth inside the walls of power is the path forward in American democracy. To maintain this democracy we must become comfortable with diverse voices speaking and providing solutions to our nation’s problems. This landscape is uncharted terrain and may not have been remotely possible if the previous occupant of the White House had not been such a disgrace to the intentions of the Framers.
VP Harris’ success in the American democratic framework has many excited, while cautiously optimistic about what is actually possible. Yet, one thing everyone is sure of is that she will be speaking, and she will most definitely be heard.
About the Author: Dr. Sherice Janaye Nelson is a speaker, author, professor, mother, and consultant. She is a Black Diaspora expert who focuses on the political, social, and economic effects of chattel slavery. This expertise has helped her serve her clients as a diversity consultant and founder of Dr. Janaye Executes. She is also the Executive Director of the Black Leadership Roundtable and a member of the advisory board for the Center for Racial Justice at Dillard University. Dr. Nelson’s new book The Congressional Black Caucus: Fifty Years of Fighting for Equality is due out in Spring, 2021. She is currently a professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: President Joe Biden (left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (right). Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay.