Elementary-aged kids do not care about politics, but parents should care about teachable moments. And the historic choice of Kamala Harris for Joe Biden’s Democratic Vice Presidential running mate offers a wealth of opportunities for parents to talk about representation, race, and history. In Harris’ selection, the country finds itself at another point of historic inflection, making children aware that inflection helps them understand that, as slow as it may be – and it is painfully slow – national progress matters.
But how do parents broach the subject of Kamala Harris’ singular historical American achievement? The answer is to dive into the “firsts” and connect them to the long struggle to reach those firsts.
Who is Kamala Harris?
Kids who see Kamala Harris will probably be drawn to her for the most superficial of reasons: She looks like a teacher or any mom rooting excitedly from the edge of a soccer field. And while Harris is, in fact, a 55-year-old step-mother and has most likely attended a few soccer games in her time, that’s not really what’s important.
What’s important is that Kamala Harris is a Black woman. That is how she identifies. That identity matters and it’s what makes her current place so important. White parents do not need to be freaked out by calling Harris a Black woman. They should not hedge with racial euphemisms like African Americans or ambiguities like “person of color.” It’s not hard for kids to understand. Everybody’s family is different, and so is Harris’.
Kamala Harris’ father is an immigrant from Jamaica. Her mother is an immigrant from India. What does that make Harris? An American. In fact, as a child of immigrants, she is emblematic of America’s best version of itself – home to those seeking opportunity and freedom. She represents the promise of the Statue of Liberty. That’s a good and true story and enough to help kids understand.
What Has Kamala Harris Accomplished?
Kids have an innate sense of fairness. It’s not hard for them to comprehend how unfair it would be for the rules to be made by a certain group of people. What if boys were the only ones who could make the rules for games? What if only children with brown eyes were allowed to make the rules.
With that context, kids can get the gravity of Harris’ career. She was the first Black woman to take on the role of California Attorney General – the top cop and rule enforcer. In 2016, she was also the first Black woman to be elected to the Senate from the state of California, making her only the second Black woman in history to be elected to the senate after Carol Moseley Braun in 1993. She is currently the only sitting Black woman in the United States senate.
Why is Kamala Hariss’ Role as Running Mate Important?
Context is always key when talking to kids. This moment requires a historical context. Women in America fought for and secured the right to vote, and the ability to have their say how things were run, through the 19th amendment in 1920. That was 100 years ago. And in all of that time, a woman has never been elected President or Vice President. And while it’s true that women have run for president and vice president, Kamala Harris is the first Black woman to do so.
Curious kids might ask why that is? And that’s a tough question, but a fair one. It’s also easy to answer: There are people in America who do not want things to change. Those people made it harder for those who do not look or think like them to be able to make the rules. And that only changes when we speak up and work to make it change.
There’s an arc to the career of Kamala Harris that’s as compelling as any superhero story and it’s one that’s particularly good for kids to take in. When she was born to immigrant parents with dark skin and heavy accents, her place on the world stage was never a given. Many people pushed hard to give her a path, and she worked very hard to walk that path. And as much as it is the unique character of the United States that Kamala Harris can get to where she is today, there are many people who have worked against progress.
With good lessons from thoughtful parents, it’s hopeful that we’ll see more people like Kamala Harris in the future.