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Featuring: Kamala Harris

CW: Sexual and child abuse, racism

Kamala Harris has been named as the next Vice President-elect of the United States of America. Consequently, she is set to become the first woman and the first person of Black and South Asian descent to serve as Vice President in the US.

Not only is her new position a step forward for women, but it is also a step forward for people of colour as there are very few non-Caucasian people in power across the Western world.

Born in Oakland, California, Kamala Harris grew up surrounded by the Bay Area Civil Rights Movement which included individuals like Charles Hamilton, who fought for equal rights and job opportunities for Black people after World War II.

In addition to this, Harris was brought up in a highly educated household, with her Jamaican father Donald J. Harris, a professor of economics at the highly prestigious Stanford University. Her Indian mother Shyamala Gopalan, on the other hand, was a biologist.

Their hardworking nature was instilled in Kamala, leading her to receive an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Economics at the historically black Howard University. She later went on to acquire a law degree from the University of California.

However, it was her mother’s work on the progesterone receptor, which advanced breast cancer research and activism, that first inspired Kamala’s passion for fighting injustice. She has commented in the past that her mother, “raised us to be proud, strong Black women.”

During her childhood, Kamala and her sister regularly visited her mother’s family in Chennai, India, where she would often see her grandfather PV Gopalan. His progressive views on democracy and women’s rights influenced her future policies and political values and beliefs.

After her parents divorced, Kamala and her sister moved to Montreal, Canada, to accompany her mother, who had accepted a research and teaching job at the globally respected McGill University.

Whilst at high school in Montreal, she learnt that her friend Wanda Kagan was being sexually assaulted by her stepfather and she came to live with Harris and her family.

Their friendship, and Kamala’s role in protecting and opposing her friend’s situation, would later contribute to Harris’s goal to protect women and children. In 1998, she became the Chief of the Career Criminal Division in San Francisco.

She worked on cases of sexual assault, further leading to her job in 2000 at San Francisco City Hall where she ran the Family and Children’s Services Division, representing cases surrounding child abuse and neglect.

During her role as District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011, Kamala worked hard to reform laws she viewed as unjust. Some of her reform efforts include her opposition to the death penalty as she viewed life imprisonment without parole as a more cost-effective and painful punishment – a view impacted by the murder of Dianne Feinstein, who was a policewoman.

Harris’s campaign in support of life imprisonment was supported by a majority of people, with polls presenting seventy percent of voters in support of Harris’ decision.

In June 2010, Kamala Harris was elected as Attorney General of California, a role that she held until 2017. With her new power and position, Kamala Harris advocated for LGBTQ+ rights through opposing discriminatory legislation.

For example, in 2014, Harris co-sponsored a bill to ban the gay and trans panic defence, thus making California the first state with such legislation.

Harris continued to use her high position in the justice system to create new legislation that protected human rights and reflected her views on equality.

Despite Kamala Harris’ advocacy for equality and justice, however, she is criticised for some of her political efforts.

Though she fought against the death penalty when a police officer was murdered, she defended California’s death penalty system in court subsequently.

Harris also created training programs to combat racial profiling by police officers, however, did not allow her office to investigate specific police shootings.

Despite her perceived faults, Kamala Harris has received numerous awards and honours throughout her life. For example, in 2015 and 2017 Harris received honorary degrees from the University of Southern California and Howard University.

2005 saw Kamala Harris listed in Newsweek’s report on ’20 of America’s Most Powerful Women’ and in 2008, she was listed in California Lawyer Magazine’s ’34 Attorneys of the Year’.

The role of Vice-President of America is a highly prominent one and has previously been held by cis-gendered white men. Kamala Harris is seen as an inspiration to many women and both the Black and Asian community.

She has broken the normative scene where men have all the high positions of political power whilst breaking the glass ceiling as a person of colour, and in doing so has made it possible for the dreams of young women of colour to become more of a reality.

It is safe to say all eyes will be on her, and everyone will be looking forward to seeing what else she is capable of achieving in the many years to come.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr