Kamala Harris’ ascent to the White House makes me feel represented. No, I’m not talking about her being of partial Indian heritage – as too many have, obnoxiously, usually erasing her Blackness while asserting their caste pride. I’m not even talking about her being a woman, because feminism has evolved to a point where representation isn’t quite so simple, and we must consider her record and role as an American politician foremost. All that said, I identify for an unsophisticated reason: Harris has a big laugh, and bursts into peals of it frequently. So do I.
There are whole video compilations online of her laughing, sourced from footage from over the years. I’m hardly the only one to notice and be attracted to her mirth. I could watch that laugh all day. She seems to do it everywhere, even right into mics in front of her, which amplify that glorious, open-throated cackle. She doesn’t cover her mouth when she does, or apologise for it. She laughs lavishly.
To have women laughing, without inhibition and often, is still noteworthy. Our laughter ripples the fabric of any setting – a society, a workplace, or a seat of power – where certain subtle rules and controls are in force. Decorum is a smokescreen.
I’ve written in this column before about being requested to laugh quietly while in a (not even fancy) restaurant, which was promptly exited and boycotted henceforth. People are not comfortable with women who take up space in any way – even with the intangibility of our voices, whether that’s in a big laugh or a screaming orgasm or even a quietly but firmly delivered argument. In the last of these, noise pollution is not even an excuse, and that says it all.
Laughter isn’t just an expression of enjoyment. It can be used to convey unkindness, be a sardonic expression of bitterness, signify nervousness, or simply be the body physically relieving emotional stress or tension. There appears to be joy in the kind of laughter Kamala Harris has so often been captured collapsing into, the kind of laughter I collapse into. But it’s more than that.
I’m trying to explain this without projecting onto Harris, who is ultimately a public figure with a track record that some admire and others are suspicious of, and who like anyone entrusted with power must be held to a high standard. But the reason why her laughter makes me feel good is something like this: I weep torrents and thunderstorms. I don’t dismiss my anger, although I am learning the art of slowing down reaction. I have the work drive of a honeybee. When I laugh out loud it isn’t always because I am in such abundant euphoria or have so little concern for public courtesy. It isn’t because I lose myself or my manners. No, it’s just that – like my sorrow, my fury or my work, I inhabit my laughter completely. A loud laugh implies: “It’s not only my laughter that is irrepressible”. Perhaps that’s not a good trait in a politician, elected to serve. But it’s a wonderful trait in the rest of us, especially the (extra)ordinary women of this world.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 14th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.