The Meaning of Kamala Harris: The Woman who will Break New Ground as Vice-PresidentBreaking News
tags: immigration, labor, 2020 Election, Vice Presidency, Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris has spent her life crashing through glass ceilings and accumulating “firsts”. She was the first female district attorney of San Francisco, the first female attorney general of California, the first Indian American in the US Senate, the first Indian American candidate of a major party to run for vice-president. Soon she will become the first female vice-president. If Joe Biden only serves one term, as expected, there is a chance that in 2024 she could become the first black female president.
The problem with phrases like “first black female president” is that they confine the California senator to the sort of boxes she has always tried to avoid. “When I first ran for office that was one of the things that I struggled with, which is that you are forced through that process to define yourself in a way that you fit neatly into the compartment that other people have created,” she told the Washington Post last year. “I am who I am … You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it.” She does not agonise over her identity – she simply calls herself a “proud American”.
As with Barack Obama, there are those who have doubted Harris’s Americanness. The morning after Harris was named as Biden’s running mate, racist “birther” conspiracy theories, amplified by Donald Trump, began to circulate. Newsweek published an op-ed questioning whether Harris was “constitutionally ineligible” to become president because her parents, who met at graduate school in Berkeley, were immigrants. Her mother, a breast cancer researcher, was born in India. Her father, an economist, is black and was born in Jamaica. Harris, meanwhile, was born in Oakland, California. Which, to be very clear, means the 56-year-old is a natural-born US citizen and eligible to run for president.
Pawan Dhingra, a professor of American studies at Amherst College, notes that Harris’s biracial heritage “represents a history of Asian Americans that is often overlooked”. The dominant narrative around Asian Americans, Dhingra says, has to do with their “abilities to approximate whiteness in regards to their education levels and incomes”. The “model minority myth” has often pitted Asian Americans against black Americans. Harris, however, “offers a different trajectory to understand Asian Americans”, Dhingra believes. Her biography is one of interracial solidarity and activism: Harris’s progressive parents were active in the protests of the 1960s and 70s, and the senator has frequently talked about growing up with a “stroller’s-eye view of the civil rights movement”. She is, Dhingra notes, “a powerful symbol and voice for progressive Asian Americans”.
But is Harris a careerist or an activist? Is she pragmatic or progressive? These are questions that have been debated for years.