Kamala Harris has had nothing short of a groundbreaking political career. From 2011-2017, she served as California’s first female attorney general. And in 2016, she made history by as the second Black woman and the first South Asian-American to become a U.S. senator.
But Kamala didn’t stop making history there. In January 2019, she began a campaign to run for president. Although she ended her campaign that December, citing a lack of funds, her road to the presidency is not over yet.
In August 2020, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Now, Kamala is making history for her groundbreaking run for vice president.
But what do we really know about the woman who might end up a heartbeat away from becoming president? Here is the unknown truth of Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris became an activist at a shockingly early age
What motivates someone to become a politician? Ideally, they are driven by the need to make the world a better place. And this is something that has been part of Kamala’s life since she was a child.
Kamala’s parents have been civil rights activists since she before she was born. Her father Donald J. Harris, a retired Standford University economics professor, met her mother Shyamala Gopalan in 1962. He was a Ph.D student speaking at a study group called the Afro American Association and they bonded over their civil rights views.
“I was born a Black child in America, the child of parents who were marching and shouting, just like all the folks who have been marching and shouting in the streets these last days,” Kamala told The Washington Post in June 2020. “From my childhood, I was there in a stroller in the streets, marching. It’s just what I do. It’s what I believe in. I don’t know any other way.”
Kamala’s mom has confirmed her activism started shockingly early. “She was writing letters to Nixon to stop the bombing in Vietnam before she could really write her name,” she told San Francisco magazine in 2003 (via The Nation).
Kamala Harris was inspired by her mother to run for president
Kamala’s political ambitions can be attributed in part to the influence of her mother, who was an endocrinologist and breast cancer researcher.
At the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention in September 2019, Kamala discussed how her mother shaped her view of the world.
“If you ever came home complaining about something, complaining, our mother would look at you with a straight face, maybe one hand on a hip, and she’d say, ‘Well what are you going to do about it?’” Kamala said. “So I decided to run for president of the United States.”
Sadly, Kamala’s mother passed away in 2009. But Kamala feels the inspiration of her mother every day.
Kamala Harris addresses her ethnic background
One prominent aspect of Kamala Harris is her identity as a biracial woman and the daughter of immigrants. Her father is Jamaican and her mother is Indian. Because of this, you might expect that Kama grew up struggling with who she really was, much like how Barack Obama (also biracial) struggled with his identity as a younger man.
Interestingly, Kamala says that she never felt such a struggle. Rather than getting bogged down by defining herself via race, she told The Washington Post in February 2019 that she identifies much more simply: she is “an American,” nothing more and nothing less.
To critics, this may seem like nothing more than a slogan. However, Kamala knows very well that leaning too far into identity politics is dangerous.
This is a message that Elizabeth Warren learned the hard way. Look at how her attempt to prove her Native American ancestry backfired!
Meet Kamala Harris’s sister Maya
Kamala Harris would be the first one to tell you that her family is her strength. This includes more than the influence of her mother and father. It also includes the strength and support of her sister, Maya Harris.
Maya has followed in Kamala’s shoes by becoming an attorney. And Maya is a keen political operator, having run Kamala’s presidential campaign and even advised on Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.
Whether or not Kamala becomes vice president, it seems likely we’re going to hear a lot more about Maya Harris in the years to come.
Kamala Harris’s career as attorney general has attracted controversy
As impressive as Kamala’s career has been, she still has some harsh critics. And those critics eventually created a meme that has been an albatross around the neck of her political career. And that meme is just four little words: “Kamala is a cop.”
The meme is meant to draw attention to some of her more controversial decisions as attorney general of California. This included threatening the parents of students who skipped school with jail time. She also failed to prosecute many police officers and prosecutors that seemingly engaged in misconduct.
Once upon a time, her “tough on crime” stance was seen as a major boon. And she was even calling herself the “top cop” of California long before the “Kamala is a cop” meme came to life. But in a year that has brought attention to police brutality and murder of unarmed civilians, that “top cop” label may cause her some serious political problems.
Kamala Harris has criticized Joe Biden
Those four words (“Kamala is a cop”) may or may not hurt her politically. But another four words have already caused serious harm: “It was a debate.”
When Kamala appeared on The Late Show in August, Stephen Colbert asked her about her previous criticisms of Joe Biden. He pointed out that when she was running against Biden, she was one of his fiercest critics.
“How do you go from being such a passionate opponent on such bedrock principles for you, and now you guys seem to be pals?” Colbert asked.
“It was a debate!” Kamala replied with a laugh.
While she played it up for comedy, some critics think this means Kamala is okay with saying things she doesn’t believe in to score political points.
Will this be enough to damage her campaign for vice president? We’ll have to wait and see.