Public prosecutor, Presidential candidate, Vice President-Elect, Momala… Kamala Harris has chalked up many accolades in her lifetime. On January 20, 2021, she’s likely to take up the charge of the 46th Vice President of the United States of America. In the run-up to Inauguration Day, here are some key takeaways to know about THE woman of the moment.
Born in Oakland, California on 20 October 1964, Kamala Devi Harris was the older child of academics Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher from India and Donald Harris, an economist from Jamaica.
Her political and social justice roots were nurtured from a young age. Her parents, who met at UC Berkeley, were passionate about civil rights and even took her to rallies when she was young. Her maternal grandparents were politically active as well, her grandfather fought for India’s independence, and her grandmother taught impoverished women about birth control.
In her autobiography The Truths We Hold she talks openly about how her mother raised – her parents divorced when she was seven years old – her, and her sister Maya to embrace her South Asian and Black identities. “My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”
She will be the first woman and – despite many media claims – the second (not first) person of colour – Charles Curtis, a Native American served with President Herbert Hoover in 1928 – to serve as veep. Her VP position won’t be the first time she’s notched up a first.
She was the first female/black/Asian American district attorney for San Francisco in 2004. In 2011, she was appointed district attorney for the State of California – the state’s top law enforcement official – again, the first female/black/Asian American to hold the position. In 2017, she became only the second black woman to win a seat in the United States senate – a position she received an endorsement from Joe Biden in 2016.
Before becoming Joe Biden’s running mate, she was a Democratic Party Presidential candidate. She announced her candidacy on Martin Luthur King Jr. Day (January 21, 2019) and focused her campaign on the slogan of “For the People”.
Eventually she withdrew her campaign on 3 December 2019, citing a lack of financial resources while reaffirming her long-term goals. “I will do everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump and fight for the future of our country and the best of who we are.”
During the Democratic Presidential debate, she publicly sparred with Joe Biden over his stance on school desegregation. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school (ed note: she attended Thousand Oaks Elementary School) every day. And that little girl was me.”
For the record, President-Elect Biden clarified that he was not opposed to busing in America but that it was ordered by the Department of Education. She would eventually go on to endorse his Presidential run on March 8, 2020, notably when there were no more female candidates in the race. Lending her support via a Twitter post, she called him a great leader and someone who could unify the country – a key message of the Biden-Harris campaign which she officially joined on 12 August 2020.
Her relationship with the Biden family dates back long before she became Joe Biden’s running mate. As state attorney for California, she forged a close friendship with Beau Biden (Joe Biden’s late son who died of brain cancer in 2015) who was state attorney for Delaware. In her book The Truths We Hold, she called Beau an “incredible friend and colleague” and relayed how they would talk “every day, sometimes multiple times a day”.
Her background as a prosecutor has been the key to her verbal takedowns of her many notable opponents: President Donald Trump, General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General William Barr, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Vice President Mike Pence. Who can forget her calmly telling VP Pence: “Mr Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking.”
Defining herself as a reformer with progressive views, that she’s taken a stance on tough issues comes as no surprise. As part of her Presidential bid, she released a criminal justice plan that proposed abolishing mandatory minimum sentences, ending the death penalty (she’s been publicly against this for years) and solitary confinement, amongst other hot button topics.
During her career, she pushed for programmes that helped people find jobs instead of putting them in prison, decriminalising sex work and even supported a law that made school truancy a misdemeanour that would punish parents who failed to send their kids to school.
Her record of being a “top cop” – during her first three years as San Francisco’s district attorney the city’s conviction rate jumped from 52 to 67 per cent – will serve her well. According to an article by SF Chronicle, President-Elect Biden intends to mirror his previous working relationship with President Barack Obama: “When I agreed to serve as President Obama’s running mate, he asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted to be the last person in the room before he made his most important decisions,” Biden said. “That’s what I ask of Kamala — to be the last voice in the room. To always tell me the truth. To ask the hard questions.”
Sundays are set aside for family dinner and her go-to dinner is roast chicken. In an interview with The Atlantic, she admitted to cooking almost every recipe in Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food. On her official YouTube channel, she’s filmed a bunch of Instagram Live videos doing everything from baking monster cookies to debating the art of a tuna sandwich.
Set up by her close friend PR consultant Chrisette Hudlin, Kamala met entertainment lawyer Doug Emhoff (check out his Twitter) on a blind date. They got married in 2014 in a simple courthouse ceremony four months after getting engaged. Harris’ sister Maya was the officiant.
Emhoff has been celebrated by the media for his adoration and support of Kamala, taking a leave of absence to join her on the campaign trail. The “Second Gentleman” has been vocal about donning a mask (read: posting many mask-wearing selfies) and his Twitter account is cheekily dedicated to “Future 1st Gentleman”.
Kamala Harris’ affectionate moniker is thanks to Emhoff’s two children Cole and Ella. In a piece penned for ELLE, Harris explained how the name came about: “Cole, Ella, and I agreed that we didn’t like the term “stepmom”. Instead, they came up with the name “Momala.”
While style reporters have spent the past four years decoding FLOTUS style – anyone remembers her “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” jacket – the next four years will be more straightforward. Harris’ predictable uniform – this website tracks her outfits – of tailored power suits and pearls is deliberate: she doesn’t let her clothes speak for her.
Before you make conclusions about her style (seriously, have you seen her heels?), know that this woman is often in Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, and those pearls – she’s been favouring them as a statement accessory for 35 years.
The Biden/Harris ticket has no shortage of celebrity endorsements (Beyonce, John Legend and Brad Pitt, to name a few) but Harris has gleaned strong support from Selena Gomez (they filmed an Instagram Live discussing the importance of voting to support people with mental health issues), Miley Cyrus and Mindy Kaling, who has championed her since her Presidential run – they’ve even cooked masala dosa together.
You’ve likely seen the viral memes showing her dancing in the rain, kicking her feet up with little girls in a drum line, having a laugh and a dance with her staff. While some of her opponents have accused her of being “giddy”, we’re loving the optimism and positive energy radiating from her.
Regardless of who gets sworn in on January 20, 2021, what’s undeniable is that Kamala Harris has set the stage for more females, young and old, to be bold and be inspired to break the glass ceiling. As she put it succinctly: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”