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Who is Kamala Harris? All about Joe Biden's vice-presidential running mate

Kamala Harris is only the fourth woman on the presidential ticket of one of the country’s two major political parties and she’s the first woman of color.

August 15, 2020 / 03:41 PM IST

US Presidential candidate Joe Biden has named Indian American Kamala Harris as his vice presidential pick. The senator from California is in the race to become America's not only the first female but also the first 'Black' Vice President. With this decision, Biden aims to appeal to a broad coalition of voters, particularly women who have been leaning away from Donald Trump.

Announcing his decision, Biden tweeted, "I have the great honor to announce that I've picked Kamala Harris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country's finest public servants — as my running mate."

For Harris, there's a lot of firsts. In addition to being the first Black woman on a major party's presidential ticket, she's also the first Indian American.

Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, born in Chennai, was a widely respected breast cancer researcher who immigrated to the United States from India in the 1960s. Her father, Donald Harris, is an eminent economist who spent much of his career at Stanford University. Also an immigrant, he moved to the United States from Jamaica.

Also read: Joe Biden taps 'Indian-American' Kamala Harris to be first black woman Vice President

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Similar to Former United States President Barack Obama, a mixed-race heritage has allowed Harris to connect across identities and reach multiple audiences and voting blocs. Her rise as the daughter of two immigrants also serves a powerful counter to Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.

In a 2009 interview, Harris had said that besides her mother, her grandfather, TV Gopalan, was one of the most influential people in her life.

"My grandfather was one of the original Independence fighters in India. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were walking along the beach with him after he retired and lived in Besant Nagar, in what was then called Madras," she said.

Also read: Kamala Harris's Vice President nod: How people are reacting

The California senator further said that India has a great deal of influence on her politics. "India is the oldest democracy in the world. So that is part of my background, and without question, it has had a great deal of influence on what I do today and who I am," Harris told the reporter.

Harris herself was a presidential aspirant until last year before she dropped out of the race because of a lack of support. Interestingly, Harris had clashed with Biden during her run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination against the latter. Harris dropped out of the race in December 2019 and endorsed Biden in March.

Despite their fiery debate, Biden has stated that he does not hold a grudge. Biden described Harris as a "first-rate intellect, a first-rate candidate, and a real competitor."

Also read: Kamala Harris 'meanest, most horrible', reacts Donald Trump at Joe Biden's vice presidential pick

Taking to Twitter, Harris said she was honored to join Biden on the ticket. "Joe Biden can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us," she wrote.

Raised in Oakland and Berkeley California, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and pursued a career in criminal justice before becoming only the second Black woman ever elected to the Senate.

After dropping out of the presidential race in December, Harris turned her attention back to the Senate and found new purpose during the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality that rocked the United States.

After George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May, Harris marched beside protesters and endorsed proposals to overhaul policing and make lynching a federal crime.

In a memoir published in 2019, Harris described herself as a "progressive prosecutor" and said it is a "false choice" to decide between supporting the police and advocating for greater scrutiny of law enforcement.

She gained further recognition after Ben Crump, Floyd's family's attorney, published an opinion article supporting her candidacy. "She's been a change agent at every level of government - local, state, and federal - for 30 years," Crump wrote.

Additionally, one of her biggest achievements in the eyes of civil rights activists was "Open Justice," an online portal that made a wide range of criminal justice data available to the public, including the number of deaths and injuries in police custody.

Also read: The Kamala Harris Pick: Geographic Balance Takes Back Seat to Gender, Race

Some experts believe that Harris is a demographic selection. "This is 1,000% a demographic selection,” said Theodore R. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, who studies voting behavior among Black voters. He predicted that Harris would increase Black turnout.

Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist said that the notion that the selection would affect the electoral map was "the biggest myth of the veepstakes." But she said that Harris was still a politically potent choice.

“With all the issues around systemic racism, it’s really important symbolically to have a Black woman on the ticket,” Smith said, adding that "It’s about understanding the moment that we’re in."
Megha Mishra

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