Who is Your Kamala?
The signs tell us “in case of emergency, break glass”. The truth is, installing the glass created the damn emergency.
Glass ceilings. Barriers built to exclude women, minorities, or people deemed to be “different” than those that hold the positions of power have historically stifled our nation. We have watched women, Blacks, Latinas, Asians, indigenous peoples or those who are LGBTQ be marginalized by our society and power structures. They been fed the bread-crumb promises of eventual equity, as if their deserved status and share will gradually roll in on the wheels of inevitability. But bread crumbs don’t nourish the soul. They only breed discontent.
These glass ceilings have suffocated the vast majorities of our society. So much talent has been hidden, or silenced. Strength has been sapped. Purposes have been undermined. Dreams have been crushed. Promise after promise after promise has been delayed, betrayed and broken.
And truth be told, that doesn’t even begin to describe the damage. As a white man, I haven’t felt the pain of being marginalized. I’ve been socialized in privilege and masked from my own unearned advantages. I’ve been blissfully unaware of the incalculable burdens borne by the people around me who have different gender, preferences, language or pigmentation.
But I’m a father of daughters. I’m a friend and colleague of people who come from different experiences, and cultures. I’m a teacher of precious young hearts and minds, that eat different foods, have different sounding names, celebrate different holidays, and pray to different gods, or to none at all.
And they have carried incessant, overwhelming, relentless oppression. They been hounded, and haunted. They have been mistrusted, and mistreated. They have been used and abused. Yet they show up and show out.
Who is your Kamala?
Who is the person in your life waiting to break through that damn glass ceiling? There are many if you just look. And listen. And intentionally engage them in authentic conversations about how they experience injustice and inequity in their daily life interactions.
One of the first Kamala’s in my life was Shabnum. She sat across from me in sixth grade. Bright, cute, hard working, kind, and possessing a wonderful mixture of dignity and ferocity, she was one to behold.
Many of the most important life lessons that I learned during those formative years were from her.
In a predominantly white school, she was an outlier. Her words and actions were more scrutinized than other classmates. She was not as popular, or welcome, as her peers, even though she merited a place that many of them occupied free of expectation. Yet she carried herself with a grace and dignity that was uncommon and admirable.
Though she far excelled me in all ways academically, Shabnum always made me feel equal and my ideas respected. She welcomed me into her home and introduced me to delectable Indian cuisine that expanded my taste buds far beyond the mac-n-cheese and hot dogs I was more accustomed to at home. And somewhere in one of those playful conversations I recall her telling me that she would one day be the first female US President.
She was my first Kamala. The first person I realized had a glass ceiling over her that didn’t similarly encumber me.
There have been countless other Kamalas. Hundreds of classmates and colleagues. Too many acquaintances than I could count. My dear students, who hail from Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Hispanic or African bloodlines. Classrooms of girls who exude the kindness, brilliance, ingenuity, strength and creativity that our nation craves and desperately needs. And my two beautiful daughters. My heart that lives outside of my chest, and now outside of my home. Raised and released into a society that has systematically constructed glass ceilings telling them their advancement is limited. Trying to tell them to mind their place.
A society that suffocates its people is in a state of emergency. No justice, no peace.
May we all help them break that damn glass.