Why Kamala Harris Being The First Black Woman And Indian-American Vice President-Elect Of The United States Is A Pretty Epic Deal
In the past few days, a lot of Indians received flak and got trolled for paying too much attention to the US Elections. Ideally, these people should’ve been more, “Amreeka ka politics, apne ko kya?” Or been a bit more clued into the Bihar elections. But as someone who belonged to that enthu-cutlet group who keenly awaited the results of POTUS Donald Trump v/s Joe Biden, I think it is perfectly okay to care about such a global event. After all, the United States is a power player, and what it does, affects the world in various ways. Especially, the fact that it elected, for the first time in history, a woman to the post of Vice President. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is here, folks. No longer will you have to think of Julia Louis Dreyfus from VEEP if you ever want to imagine what “Madam Vice President” would look like.
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But then again, it’s not just that US’ future VP is a woman. It’s that she is a woman of colour, a daughter of immigrants and one who celebrates her Jamaican and Indian American heritage, that matters. With so many firsts already in her kitty, and with the US having just lost Ruth Bader Ginsberg from its band of powerful female role models, they needed someone up there, STAT. And California Senator Kamala Harris was quite the popular (and now electoral) choice.
But who is Kamala Harris? What is her origin story and the trajectory of her rise to power? And more importantly, why is her election such a big deal for not just Americans but women the world over? It’s going to take a while to explain (not as long as the vote counting in Nevada, though, don’t you worry.
Kamala Harris: Origin, political career, and teaming up with Joe Biden for US Elections 2020
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, to Shyamala Gopalan and Donald J. Harris. Her father, a Stanford University professor, had migrated to the US from British Jamaica in 1961 for further studies. Her mother, a biologist whose work stimulated breast cancer research, had migrated to the US from Tamil Nadu, India, in 1958 at the age of 19.
When Kamala was 7, her parents divorced, and she and her sister spent a chunk of their early life in Quebec, Canada, with their mother while she worked there. For high school, though, Kamala attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., from where she graduated with degrees in political science and economics. She attended the Hastings College of Law at the University of California, graduated Juris Doctor in 1989, and was admitted to the California Bar in 1990.
My dad sent me this. It looks like it could be straight from our family photo album. Nope, it's just a piece of American History. pic.twitter.com/oNDXTwBVJu
— Neil Makhija (@NeilMakhija) August 12, 2020
After serving as deputy district attorney for Alameda County, and assistant district attorney for San Francisco, Kamala Harris ran for District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003, and won, becoming the first person of colour elected to the post in SFO. In 2011, when she campaigned and was elected as the the Attorney General of California, she once again became the first woman, the first African American, and the first South Asian American to hold that office in the state. She was reelected to the post in 2014.
In 2015, Harris announced her campaign to run for United Sates Senate from California, and got endorsed by the California Democratic Party, with eventual endorsements from President Barack Obama and VP Joe Biden. Sh was elected to the US Senate in 2016.
Kamala Harris was, early on, considered the Democrats’ top bet for a presidential candidate in the 2020 elections. In January 2019, she officially announced her candidacy. However, in December 2019, she withdrew from the presidential race citing a shortage of funds. While the notion of presidential candidate Joe Bide choosing a woman of colour as a running mate had been popular since 2019, it was perhaps the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that intensified this resolve. In August 2020, Biden announced that Kamala Harris would be his running mate. On November 7, 2020, Biden-Harris won the US Elections 2020. Kamala Harris is currently a California Senator Incumbent and the 49th Vice President-elect of the United States, who will replace Mike Pence in the office on January 20, 2021.
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I am humbled by the trust and confidence you have placed in @KamalaHarris and me. We’re reminded tonight of all those who fought so hard for so many years to make this happen. It is long overdue, but once again, America has bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
Kamala Harris has often spoken about how connected she is to her Indian heritage. As children, she and her sister would often visit their mother’s family in Chennai, and even now keeps in touch with her relatives in India. Harris has stated that she was massively influenced by her maternal grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, a retired Indian civil servant with progressive views on democracy and women’s rights.
Upon her elections the Vice President, her maternal uncle, Gopalan Balachandran, who resides in Delhi, told the media, “I am very proud of Kamala, I will call and congratulate her soon… My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the news came out. My daughter is already there, helping Kamala with her campaign. All of us will fly down… I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Meanwhile, Kamala’s maternal aunt, Dr. Sarala Gopalan, who Harris fondly refers to as ‘Chithi’, said that her niece had always been a hard worker. “My sister made Kamala what she is today. She would have broken down (with joy). I miss her.”
— Maya Harris (@mayaharris_) August 12, 2020
Not just her family, Kamala Harris is quite fond of desi khana as well! In a recent Q&A with Instagram, she revealed that her favourite North India food was any kind of tikka and South Indian food would be idli with some really good sambar. In fact, there’s a pretty fun video of her and fellow South Asian American Mindy Kaling, cooking dosas at the latter’s home and bonding over their Indian mothers’ love for storing masalas in typical glass jars!
What’s more, Kamala Harris is all down with the whole ‘Auntie’ way of Indians referring to elder female relatives, and even had the word in her bio!
Also Read: US Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Advises Women To “Eat No For Breakfast”. This Meal Has Our Vote!
Appeal to Asian Americans
After POTUS incumbent Donald Trump’s ‘demonization’ of immigrants during his tenure, America welcomed the Biden-Harris team up. As a daughter of immigrants, a woman of colour, Kamala Harris made the immigrants in the country feel seen and heard. No wonder, apart from the Hollywood, TV, and social media celebs, prominent members of the South Asian community threw their weight behind her campaign. Mindy Kaling, Padma Lakshmi, Deepak Chopra, Preet Bharara were just some names out of many who supported her, and by extension, Joe Biden’s presidency bid.
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It is believed that Kamala Harris’ Indian connection will help him strengthen the ties with India, which clearly had taken a liking to Biden’s predecessor, POTUS Doland Trump because their governing ideologies seemed to align on several levels.
Kamala Harris’ victory speech
When Biden-Harris’ win was announced, one of the sweetest things doing the rounds was a video of Kamala Harris while she was on the phone, telling Biden, “We did it, Joe! We did it!”
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On Saturday, during the victory rally in Wilmington, Delaware, Kamala Harris delivered a speech that would go down as a landmark in American politics. Attesting to the fact that her election as Vice President set many firsts for women. and immigrants who dreamt big, she said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibility.”
I’m thinking about my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, and the generations of Black women who came before me who believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible. pic.twitter.com/c3f13juMPw
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 8, 2020
“And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before, but know that we will applaud you every step of the way.”
While usually power dressing in pantsuits, Kamala Harris made her Vice President-elect debut dressed in suffragette white, a sartorial statement that paid homage to the women’s suffrage (fight for the right to vote). You can watch her and President-elect Joe Biden’s speeches here:
Also Read: From Kamala Harris To Mahua Moitra: How Women Politicians Use Power Dressing To Make A Statement
Why Kamala Harris’ Vice President win is such a big deal not just for Americans
Take a step back and look at the socio-political scenario here. One the one hand, we have the stark policies introduced by POTUS Donald Trump, that negates the very spirit of what makes America the melting pot of global cultures and the land of promise. Add to that his rather toxic masculine approach to governance, which when pitted against the calm, level0-headed feminist leadership around the globe, tanks miserably. With the rise of the BLM and #MeToo, #TimesUp movements, the proven success of female leadership in the face of a pandemic, a female 007 on the horizon, Marvel bringing their first immigrant superhero (another Kamala, if you will!), and climate change requiring more attention that Trump’s petulant tweets at Greta Thunberg, the world is indeed teetering on the cusp of change.
The United States of America, which often leads the charge in changing trends, needed an overhaul in its leadership, STAT. And the election of an immigrant woman of colour to such a powerful position clearly sends the message that change is welcome. That the country is remedying its past mistakes and restore the immigrant experience before Trump.
However, the most powerful statement that Kamala Harris being chosen as Vice President, is made for the women, who can now have another role model to get inspired from. Harris smashed the patriarchy and how by breaking the line of all-male Vice Presidents of the United States and she did it with such power that you couldn’t help but think this opens doors for many more women to realise their dreams of leading change on a global scale.
In fact, if reports are to be believed, women are one of the strongest forces that tipped the scales of the election in Biden-Harris’ favour. According to exit polls from Edison Research, women lead the highest US voter turnout in at least a century, casting more ballots than men. Furthermore, 56% of female voters voted for Joe Biden compared to 48% of men.
What’s even more amazing to note is that Kamala Harris is only the start. As of today, 135 women (103 Democrats and 32 Republicans) have won the elections in their districts, making 2020 as the year that sees the highest number of women elected into the US Congress. It’s probably one of the most diverse group too, as per reports, with 48 black women, 11 Latinas, 9 LGBTQ+ representatives, 6 Asian / Pacific Island descent, 2 Native Americans and 1 Middle Eastern / North African descent.
Also Read: #Trending: Just How Desi Could US Vice President Nominee Kamala Harris Be? Twitter Tries To Guess With #YoKamalaSoIndian
What can India learn from this?
The United States really rallied to get POTUS Donald Trump out of the Oval Office. It took the combined might of Democrats, Hollywood and other entertainment industries, powerful social movements and a pandemic’s worth of realisation, but they made it happen. Even though there’s still the frustration that it was a close vote, the point is, the country had a problematic government and the people managed to vote it out. Seek, and ye shall find not just inspiration but potent motivation that it is possible. India may have dabbled, but has never strongly backed its female politicians, choosing to focus instead on their attire, accent, height, weight and other sexist criteria. It’s as if we sabotage our female leaders by pushing them down, and then question why they won’t rise up.
Well, the point is, you let them and they will.
India has this very shrewd knack of disowning its diaspora for their modernist views and only claiming them as their own when they bring glory to the country. We could just avoid the detour and realise that having an Indian American woman in one of the most powerful positions in world politics is a pretty big deal. And we can aim higher.
Oh, and the most important lesson to learn is, that if you find someone taking a keen interest in global politics, don’t troll them. That stuff’s important.