California Senator Kamala Devi Harris made history, in more ways than one, on the debate stage last week. As she faced Vice President Mike Pence on the plexiglass-partitioned stage, Harris overcame hurdles that many women, especially those of color face every day. It was a solid performance – as she displayed her many facets – resilience, strength, knowledge, calmness, and clarity. As she defined the Biden-Harris agenda and trounced the Trump-Pence administration, Harris kept her ground. She expertly faced Pence’s expected sexism and racism, all the while avoiding being associated with labels – emotional, angry, nasty- that are reserved for women, especially women of color.
We saw her apply her prosecutorial chops as she challenged Vice President Pence on the administration’s record regarding key voting issues like the coronavirus and race. But when Pence dodged her many questions and tried to turn the tables on her and Biden, she was firm.
“I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice president on what it means to enforce the laws of our country,” she said. “I’m the only one on the stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide.”
Of course, the fierceness of Harris’s prosecutorial expertise was missed, the one she has been identified with, especially since the famed Senate hearings of Attorney General William P. Barr.
But what came across on the debate stage were the many facets of her personality.
There were many aspects of her experience during the debate that were relatable to the many women who watched it. Haven’t we all been privy to being interrupted and ‘mansplained’?
Harris conveyed it more with her facial expressions than her words. Her side-eye; her stares; her repeated head shakes and head tilts. It is not surprising that Harris’ body language became a fodder for memes. Along with the classic line, which will be etched in history: “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” The measured, confident voice, it was a moment where every woman watching the debate would have smiled. We have all been there, haven’t we? Immediately afterward, the phrase became a trending topic all across social media. Many women said it reminded them of what it was like to be a woman in a patriarchal society.
According to a CNN/SRSS poll, 59 percent of voters thought Harris beat Pence, while 38 percent picked Pence as the winner of the debate.
This August, Harris became the first African American, and the first Indian-American woman to be chosen as a presidential running mate. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris was a Tamilian from India, while her father, Donald Harris is a Black man from Jamaica.
During the debate Harris mentioned her mother, who she has often referred to as her source of inspiration.
Describing the time she was asked to join Biden on the ticket, she said, I thought about my mother, who came to the United States at the age of 19, gave birth to me at the age of 25 at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California. And the thought that I’d be sitting here right now, I know, would make her proud. And she must be looking down on this.
On the campaign trail and in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” Harris has touched upon her personal journey — growing up in Oakland as the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, as well as about rising through the ranks to become the district attorney of San Francisco and later the chief law enforcement officer of California, before serving as a senator And just like she did on the debate stage, in her book, she doesn’t mince words, exhibiting her sharp disdain for Trump’s policies. Neither does she shy away from projecting herself as a progressive and a champion for everyday Americans. But what remains a constant strain throughout the book is the influence her mother has had on Harris, her thinking, and in shaping her career and her ideals.
It’s not surprising then that the Biden-Harris campaign has been receiving support from Asian American women who have been flooding social media by sharing images and the stories of their mothers and grandmothers in a campaign #SheRose #AAPISheRose. Just hours before the debate, Harris’s sister Maya tweeted an image of herself with Harris and their mother.
“My shero: Shyamala Gopalan. #SheRose and made it possible for @KamalaHarris to run. #AAPISheRose,” Maya wrote.
Be sure to check out As VP Kamala Devi Harris Breaks Barriers for more on her journey