DMT Beauty Transformation: Last Night Was A Big Moment For Moms, Aunties & Chitthis
featured Khareem Sudlow

Last Night Was A Big Moment For Moms, Aunties & Chitthis

August 20, 2020DMT Beauty

#DMTBeautySpot #beauty

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP/Shutterstock (10742613m) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del Election 2020 Joe Biden VP, Wilmington, United States – 12 Aug 2020

In her address at the Democratic National Convention last night, Sen. Kamala Harris made it clear that her historic vice presidential nomination wouldn’t have been possible without a large, supportive extended family, especially the women in it who have helped her become who she is. Her speech underscored a major theme of the night — the roles women play in supporting each other — that was also reflected in other speeches, including that of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton. The night was all about mothers — both how we honor them and how, as a society, we don’t value them nearly as much as we should.

“That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me,” Harris began, after being introduced by three generations of women in her family: her sister Maya Harris, her niece Meena Harris, and her stepdaughter Ella Emhoff.

Sen. Harris spotlighted her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an immigrant who grew up in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and moved to the U.S. to pursue her dream of finding a cancer cure. She raised her two daughters, Kamala and Maya, alone after splitting from her husband Donald when Kamala was 5. Sen. Harris’ speech drew a connection between her family’s history and her own work for justice in a way that hadn’t been done on a national stage before. As a Black and South Asian woman, she also acknowledged the intergenerational history of her family and its activism in a way that white women on that stage historically have not. 

“My mother instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives,” Harris said. “She raised us to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage. She taught us to put family first — the family you’re born into and the family you choose.”

“She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility,” she continued. “That led me to become a lawyer, a District Attorney, Attorney General, and a United States Senator.

Sen. Harris acknowledged that family is a broader concept than Western nuclear family ideals will have women believe, honoring an expansive network both born and chosen, including her Howard University classmates and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters. “Family is my uncles, my aunts—my chitthis,” Harris said, using the Tamil word for maternal aunt. Many South Asian women said this resonated with them, as it let them see themselves represented onstage. “Family is my husband Doug, who I met on a blind date set up by my best friend. Family is our beautiful children, Cole and Ella, who as you just heard, call me Momala. Family is my sister. Family is my best friend, my nieces and my godchildren. Family is Mrs. Shelton—my second mother who lived two doors down and helped raise me,” she said. 

Harris wasn’t the only speaker last night to acknowledge her family as a core source of support. Taking the opportunity to speak about childcare, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a key speaker of the night, told the story of her aunt Bee, who stepped in to help take care of her children when she was juggling a full-time teaching job in Texas. It’s a story that she has often told on the campaign trail during her presidential run when touting the need for her universal childcare policy, which she made a core part of her platform.

“I had tried holding it all together, but without reliable childcare, working was nearly impossible. And when I told Aunt Bee I was going to quit my job, I thought my heart would break,” Warren said, speaking from an early-childhood education center with colorful blocks spelling out “BLM” behind her that caught many people’s eye.

While her Aunt Bee stayed for 16 years, Warren acknowledged that “if you have a baby and don’t have an Aunt Bee, you’re on your own.” 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, women, particularly women of color, have been disproportionately affected by the childcare crisis, with one in five child care jobs vanished since February, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Warren, who has introduced universal child care legislation in Congress, pointed out that “child care was already hard to find before the pandemic.” And now, parents are making the difficult choice of whether to send their children back to school before it’s safe while having few childcare options. Characteristically, Warren said “I love a good plan,” and highlighted the Biden campaign’s proposal for childcare which is very similar to her own; it focuses on free preschool and support for childcare workers.

“It’s time to recognize that childcare is part of the basic infrastructure of this nation—it’s infrastructure for families,” she said.  

In her speech, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also recalled her mother, whom she talked extensively about during her own campaign for president: “Everyone has a story about Joe’s thoughtfulness and empathy. I remember him calling after my mother, Dorothy, died. We talked about being raised by strong, no-nonsense women,” she said, referring to her longtime friendship with Joe Biden. But it was the symbolism before Hillary’s speech that really spoke to the theme of women supporting women: There was a long montage called Women’s Suffrage to Women’s March full of homages to women activists, women who built on each other’s work to get to the historic moment where we are today. 

It was a night that celebrated women, but also a night that reminded us where society has failed us, with a long and painful segment on domestic violence. It was also a reminder that while women protect one another, society often fails us. Because, yes, aunts often step in when you need them, but women should not have to rely on the kindness of their family members for childcare. They should have access to affordable childcare through urgently needed policies like Warren’s plan. Like Harris’ mother said, life only matters when we look beyond ourselves. “My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning,” Harris said. 

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