While Harris is a first in many respects, her past makes her a contentious trailblazer
She holds many titles: former district attorney of San Francisco, former attorney general of California and first Indian senator of California, to name a few.
Out of all of her great achievements, Kamala Devi Harris now holds the most esteemed title of her career: Madame Vice President—and she’s the first person of color and woman holding this position in the history of the U.S. In essence, Vice President Harris has broken glass ceilings.
Harris was born on Oct. 20, 1964 in Oakland, CA to UC Berkeley doctorate holders Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an Indian immigrant, and Donald Harris, a Jamaican immigrant.
Harris’ childhood was colored by her parent’s different cultures. She experienced both Indian culture and Hindu religion as well as Black culture by frequenting the Black Baptist Church.
Harris went on to attend the prestigious Howard University, a historically Black college or university, and then attend law school at UC Hastings College of Law.
In 2004, Harris became the district attorney of San Francisco, and then served as attorney general of California from 2011-16 before going on to become a California Senator in 2017. Harris formally declared her run for president on Jan. 21, 2019.
In the 2019 presidential primary debates, Harris brought up then-candidate Joe Biden’s strong opposition to racial busing in 1970—an attempt at desegregating education in which students would be bused to attend schools outside of their communities to create a more racially diverse school population. Harris explained to Biden,“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day… And that little girl was me.”
Mere hours later, the Kamala Harris For The People campaign organization began to sell T-shirts with “That Little Girl Was Me” plastered on the front for $29.99. This strategic political move, however, also accrued backlash. This coupled with vague policy stances, issues with electability and having to differentiate herself from the sea of many other qualified candidates, led to Harris’ falling behind in the polls. Biden soon became the Democratic nominee and Harris suspended her presidential campaign on Dec. 3, 2019.
During Harris’ presidential campaign, her record as California’s attorney general came under scrutiny. While attorney general in 2011, Harris prevented the release of fewer than 5,000 nonviolent offenders who had not been deemed a threat to public safety and had no risks of recidivism.
Harris defied the U.S. Supreme Court orders to reduce the immense overcrowding of California prisons. California has a rate of incarceration of 581 per 100,000 people as compared to the U.K. which incarcerates 138 per 100,000 people.
In other words, California, and the whole U.S. for that matter, lock up a considerably high number of people compared to other wealthy countries. California’s prison population over-represents Black, Latinx and Indigenous people as they make up the highest percentages of incarcerated people, despite white people making up the majority of the state’s population.
In addition, given California’s propensity for wildfires, the state is heavily dependent upon its enormous prison population to fight wildfires, which was a stance Harris supported during her time as California State’s attorney.
Many have even gone as far as to consider her a cop—not aided by her self-proclaimed label “top cop” of California—who did not aggressively pursue enough contentious police brutality cases that resulted in many deaths of Brown and Black people.
Some consider it an egregious claim to say that Harris had a political agenda that upheld misrepresented, high prison populations, among other systemic inequalities, while others staunchly argue in favor of that idea. Her record as California’s attorney general and the frequent use of identity politics in America has left many wondering if she has always represented the interests of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities that she claimed to represent, contributing to her outcomes in the polls and primary election.
On Aug. 11, 2020, Harris accepted then Democratic presidential nominee Biden’s offer of becoming his running mate. After a drawn-out election, on Jan. 21, Harris officially became the Vice President of the U.S.
So, what’s left to ask?
Can we realize that it has taken far too many years for the first woman to become vice president? Can we celebrate this great American achievement while still actively acknowledging that a lot still needs to change?
At the end of the day, stripping away the accolades, the successes and the “firsts,” Harris is still a politician. Politicians often have competing interests, and the ordinary American—minority and majority groups alike—isn’t always the highest on their priority list.
Despite what some consider a rocky past, there is no denying that Vice President Harris has broken barriers, both in this election and in her prior roles, leading the way for more like her to come.
She certainly was the first for many things, and we now have hope to hold on to that she will not be the last.
Written by: Muhammad Tariq — firstname.lastname@example.org