Trump is gone, but white supremacy presides. He has dissipated into the anti-black climate that created him, made him president, and promises to invent new ways for him to redefine and actualize his supremacy. The ambiance of the next four years looms in the air and the minds of those who prepare to counter “we made it attitudes” with efforts to truly proceed toward a setting where blacks are neither supporting cast members nor a national afterthought.
As a black woman and HBCU graduate, I am preparing to hear what a feat Harris’s societal placement is for my race, gender, and education. How her achievement enables my HBCU degree to “matter,” like my blackness, in a way it simply didn’t before. To this, I cannot help but think about the charades of last summer when black lives mattered only after a white word deemed blackness fit for acknowledgment. I am also preparing to hear, as I have countless times already, how the new Vice-President has “broken the glass ceiling” for women, blacks, south Asians, and HBCU graduates.
It would be remiss to not say that the black woman cannot find hope in the same figure as a woman of color, unless the black narrative, like the woman of color, becomes one of migration. Our presence in America reflects the inaugural choice of a nation that we built to the benefit of every non-black person or family who put down roots in a soil saturated in our blood.
The non-black, non-indigenous, migrant, from Europe to Asia, to those from the mythical middle east, maintain access to America’s dream while awake, as the black collective remains lulled to sleep by the sight and sound of symbols.
To this I say, symbols do not break glass ceilings, they reinforce them with the polish of acquiescence.
This conversation about ceilings forces me to recall a sentence in James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.” The narrator, reflecting on the young black students that comprise his class, states that many have, and others will shortly, hit their heads against the “low ceiling of possibilities.” I say this to say that those desiring real change hit this ceiling long before they could legally participate in politics.
The late Malcolm X provides a well-known illustration of this fact is in Autobiography when he references on an early proclamation of ambitions to become a lawyer—proclamations shot down by a white teacher. Baldwin’s insight, juxtaposed to X’s memory, illustrates myopia as gifted to the African-descended in experience. This myopia becomes pronounced in the symbol who seemingly makes the glass ceiling closer, but actualizes the low ceiling of possibilities that Baldwin figuratively references.
While Adam Clayton Powell asked “what’s in your hand” its contemporized form is: “what’s in your gaze?”
The symbol, or optic, is never anything more than opportunities anti-black agents create for themselves at the expense of the oppressed. Though they become what one sees when they look up, the optic has not broken through anything because it can not.
To be completely candid, I never liked the glass ceiling metaphor until I challenged myself to imagine it shattered.
The shattered glass looks like the “presidential” inaugural proceedings paying homage to those who built the white house, the black souls whose labor constitutes the bones of democracy. The shattered glass ceiling looks like reconsidering all we thought we knew, not what face our adversaries assign to the same old supremacy. The glass is only shattered when blacks are spoken to not for or at, where speeches cease to be subversive messages of white nationalism to white nationalists. The shattered glass ceiling acknowledges pro-black leaders as the true advocates for humanity, not polarizing political figures. The glass ceiling has not been shattered until blacks need not be adversaries to their own to be deemed fit to serve this country
In an interview with CBS, Kamala Harris stated that she “Eats ‘NO’ for breakfast” in a social veiling of reality. However, she is where she is because she said “yes” verbally and through her actions.
Her status as Vice President, though pandered as an ascension, maintains the politics of a black past in delineating a black woman doubly espoused to the forces that continue to asphyxiate the faction she claims. This dynamic hauntingly illustrates that we as a people have not come much further politically or socially from Linda Brent in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, who under the ownership, or what we would call employment today, of slave master Mr. Flint, performs pseudo authority in “choosing” a white male in which to breed. The portrait of her oppression becomes cemented upon realizing that her “choices” mirrors her systemic positionality.
Nevertheless, you can’t break through what embodies the foundation for your aspirations. You cannot break through what comprises the essence of who you are without obliterating the self and having to create and acquire an autochthonous esteem. You can’t break through a glass ceiling when your personal and professional identity is saturated in the same color of the supremacy that poisons the globe.
Furthermore, the glass ceiling metaphor acts as a glass slipper–systemically slipped onto the black foot as a symbol veiled by a form assumed with implicit intention. A symbol that engenders stars in the eyes of those who could not care less that one can not walk a single step on a glass ceiling or in a glass slipper, if you carry any significant weight. Pun intended.
Substance shatters the glass ceiling, and for that, we’re still waiting…