VICE President-elect Kamala Harris on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) paid tribute to the women, particularly black women, whose shoulders she stands on as she shatters barriers that have kept mostly white men entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.
“Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been,” Harris said, wearing a white suit in tribute to women’s suffrage. President-elect Joe Biden had the character and audacity “to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman as his vice president.” she added.
FIRST WOMAN VP Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. AP PHOTO
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris said in her first post-election address to the nation.
The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington’s power centers. Her black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton’s defeat four years ago.
Harris told little children to “dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’re never seen it before.”
A rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, Harris served as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general before becoming a senator.
She and Biden will be sworn in as president and vice president on Jan. 20.
Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, in 1972.
She paid tribute to black women “who are too often overlooked but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”
Despite the excitement surrounding Harris, she and Biden face steep challenges, including a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color, and a series of police killings of Black Americans that have deepened racial tensions. Harris’ past work as a prosecutor has prompted skepticism among progressives and young voters who are looking to her to back sweeping institutional change over incremental reforms in policing, drug policy and more.
Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate.
She was born in 1964 to parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life.
“When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible,” Harris said Saturday night.
Kamala is Sanskrit for “lotus flower,” and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who considers Harris a mentor, views Harris’ success through the lens of her own identity as the granddaughter of a sharecropper.
“African Americans are not far removed from slavery and the horrors of racism in this country, and we’re still feeling the impacts of that with how we’re treated and what’s happening around this racial uprising,” she said. Harris’ candidacy “instills a lot of pride and a lot of hope and a lot of excitement in what is possible.”
Harris is married to a Jewish man, Doug Emhoff, whose children from a previous marriage call her “Momala.” The excitement about her candidacy extends to women across races.