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Opinion >  Column

Rob Curley: Harris shows Chuck Taylors can be perfect for crushing the shards of the glass ceiling

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 8, 2020

Some things should be above the politics, but that’s not really the world we live in right now, is it? This is where a pair of low-top Chuck Taylor sneakers enter the picture.

With hyperbole now the order of the day – just look at today’s front page if you’re looking for tangible evidence – we rarely recognize when we’re experiencing something that history truly will note as important. That’s not your fault. Heck, we’re told almost daily that something happening right now is monumentally important.

But this one is.

And if you make it about an R or a D, then shame on you … because history isn’t going to care one bit about either political party when it explains why this moment is such a big damn deal.

If you haven’t figured out what is so important, then you clearly weren’t watching any TV yesterday. Joe Biden might be the president-elect of this nation, but the story that dominated the airwaves focused on his running mate, Kamala Harris.

Rightly so.

She will become our nation’s first vice president who is a woman, and who is Black and has ancestry from the Asian subcontinent. She is the daughter of immigrants and often tells the story of how her activist parents would push her in a stroller at civil-rights events.

Yet as awesome as all of those things are – and they are – there’s another reason Harris ascending to one of the highest offices in the land will be noted in the history books. For the last 30 years or so, the people who have been either our nation’s president or vice president have been baby boomers.

Harris will be the first member of Generation X in the nation’s executive branch. This matters. Especially now.

Yeah, yeah, yeah … at 56, some might question whether she really is a Gen Xer, considering she was born late in the year typically used to note the end of the Baby Boomer generation. But if we’re getting that specific, it’s important to explain that demographic researchers also note there is a five-year cluster of people born in that exact era who tend to lean more toward Gen X values, musical tastes, political influences and even style.

Case in point: Elle Macpherson, Eddie Veddar, Michelle Obama, Chris Cornell, Wynona Judd, Keanu Reeves, Courtney Love, Jeff Bezos, Sandra Bullock and – here’s the biggie – Stone Cold Steve Austin were all born in the same year as Harris. And no one is calling that group of people Baby Boomers. At least not with Austin in the room.

This isn’t really about the exact year someone was born; it’s about the common experiences of a generation.

Harris is a child of divorce, raised by her single mother, an Indian-born biomedical scientist whose life’s work is now an essential part of breast cancer research. Her mom was one of the first scientists to come from South Asia before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which negated the 1924 immigration act that prevented immigration from Asian countries. Her mother was directly a part of the civil rights movement at UC Berkeley.

Having grown up in the Bay Area, her friends were all the colors of the racial rainbow. She didn’t know or think that was unusual in any way.

Harris is from a generation that couldn’t figure out why it bothered so many people to see that Cheerios commercial with the biracial family and daughter six or seven years ago. And when people told Gen Xers why the ad was controversial, we collectively rolled our eyes (because this was before that rolling-eyes emoji was so easy to use).

In many ways, Harris could be one of the key players our nation needs to quit accentuating all our differences. This is a leader who doesn’t think of differences as obstacles. Differences are a feature, not a flaw.

Harris grew up in a nation with women on the Supreme Court, women running schools and women elected as our states’ governors. In her world, it wasn’t unusual to see a doctor who was a woman – it was just a part of normal life. In this sort of Gen X childhood, she wasn’t raised to see women leading in politics or business as some sort of novelty – she saw it as an expectation.

Then she owned that expectation.

So much so that we now get to say two phrases we’ve never really heard in Washington, D.C.: Madam Vice President and the Second Gentleman.

There are always differences in generations, but the gap between Millennials and Baby Boomers almost seems insurmountable at times – unless you’re a Gen Xer, who has not only lived with both of those generations, but truly loved them. We’ve always been able to bridge that gap as we take care of both our children and now our parents.

Of course, it’s often noted that members of Generation X aren’t always that great at dressing our age, but also aren’t really that interested in trying. For us, a pair of Converse low tops are the perfect work shoes.

We’re the lawyers who show up in court with tattoos on our legs and arms. We teach classes while wearing a Duran Duran shirt. We’re the newspaper editors who play guitar louder than those jets over at Fairchild. We loved Prince and can’t believe Motley Crue is now considered classic rock. We can even program a DVR.

Our parents told us that our opinions mattered. And we believed them, so we’re not exactly afraid to tell you exactly what we think.

Generation X saw the Berlin Wall fall and a space shuttle blow up as we watched both live on TV in our classrooms. We’ve never really known a life without computers and we had friends die of AIDS. We’re the last generation to know what it was like to subscribe to a newspaper instead of Netflix. We can afford a mortgage and buy a new car. And even though we know our way around a kitchen, we appreciate Taco Bell’s deliciousness.

That’s why Harris’s Generation X sensibilities matter so much: She’s a leader who grew up right smack in the middle of a real melting pot. She’s the first person to hold this high an office who knows what our country is really like – because she grew up in a very different country than many of our current leaders on Capitol Hill.

And that this happened on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment makes it feel all the more appropriate.

Harris represents something so different. Come to think of it, “represent” is the exact word to explain why this feels so important.

Back in grade school, we all were taught that our country was founded, in part, because we wanted representation to go along with all of that taxation. For so many Americans, Harris is the embodiment of representation. They want our leaders to look like us. It just so happens that Harris looks like a whole lot more of us than anyone who has ever sat at her new desk.

What’s so great about Harris’s affinity for Chuck Taylors is that they are the perfect footwear for how she will begin her new work for our country: walking over all of that newly shattered glass.

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