(This story was originally published on 13 August 2020 and is being republished from The Quint's archives in the light of the vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence scheduled for Thursday, 7 October, ahead of the US elections.)
This is a historic first for women of colour - Harris is half Indian and half Jamaican. If elected she would be the country’s first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president.
Harris was the first woman of Indian descent to run for US presidency from either Democratic or Republican party in 2019. She discontinued her Presidency bid in December 2019 and threw her support behind former Vice President Joe Biden.
Her Heritage and Identity
Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother from Chennai, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, and Jamaican father, Donald Harris. Her mother was a cancer researcher who passed away in 2009 and her father is a professor at Stanford University. The parents separated when Harris and her younger sister Maya Harris were still very young.
Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was drawn towards the civil rights movement and the African American culture after immigrating to States in the 60s. Gopalan marched and protested with her black husband, and then with the girls after they divorced. She brought her daughters home to India for visits, she cooked Indian food for them, and the girls often wore Indian jewellery.
Many are unaware of her Indian heritage since she grew up in the African American community and later attended a historically Black college - Howard University. Harris however, calls herself simply “an American,” and said she has been fully comfortable with her identity from an early age. She also said that her biracial heritage makes her uniquely qualified to fight for people who have been traditionally ignored in America.
Where Does Harris Stand on Key Issues?
Harris was the first woman and the first woman of colour to become a District Attorney in San Francisco and later, attorney general of California. In 2016, she was elected as the first Black senator in California. During her years as a senator she has advocated for criminal justice reform and racial justice legislation. She says she wants to be an advocate for the Black community and help reduce police violence against them.
She has also spoken in favour of raising minimum wage, tax cuts for the middle class, reducing rent, reducing tuition fees and most importantly, expanding healthcare access. She also supports improving immigration laws, LGBTQ+ rights and gun reform.
Harris has been criticised for her actions as an attorney general in California. Many have called her out for high incarceration rates for people of colour when she was a prosecutor, and defending wrongful convictions. She was also criticised for not supporting police reform and championing a truancy law which could convict parents who fail to send their children to school. She has also been called out for incarcerating many young people for marijuana usage and possession . It should be noted that she later supported federal marijuana legalisation.
Some in the South Asian community have called her out for not fully embracing her Indian heritage.
She has expressed regret for some of these actions and vowed to do better in the future. It is also worth noting that many in the Black and the South Asian communities in the United States are very hopeful and happy about Joe Biden’s pick.