VIDEO: Harris pays tribute to Black women in 1st speech as VP-elect

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2020, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., pass each other as Harris moves to the podium to speak during a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del. Harris made history Saturday, Nov. 7, as the first Black woman elected as vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have kept men — almost all of them white — entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2020, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., pass each other as Harris moves to the podium to speak during a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del. Harris made history Saturday, Nov. 7, as the first Black woman elected as vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have kept men — almost all of them white — entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris on Saturday paid tribute to the women, particularly Black women, whose shoulders she stands on as she shatters barriers that have kept mostly white men entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.

“Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been,” Harris said, wearing a white suit in tribute to women’s suffrage. She called it a testament to President-elect Joe Biden’s character that “he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman and his vice-president.”

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris said in her first post-election address to the nation.

The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington’s power centres. Her Black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton’s defeat four years ago.

Harris told little children to “dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’re never seen it before.” After Biden’s speech, she was joined on stage by her family, including her two grandnieces who wore white dresses.

A rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, Harris served as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator. After she ended her own 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate. They will be sworn in as president and vice-president on Jan. 20.

Biden’s running mate selection carried added significance because he will be the oldest president ever inaugurated, at 78, and hasn’t committed to seeking a second term in 2024.

Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, in 1972.

She paid tribute to Black women “who are too often overlooked but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”

Despite the excitement surrounding Harris, she and Biden face steep challenges, including a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on people of colour, and a series of police killings of Black Americans that have deepened racial tensions. Harris’ past work as a prosecutor has prompted skepticism among progressives and young voters who are looking to her to back sweeping institutional change over incremental reforms in policing, drug policy and more.

Jessica Byrd, who leads the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project and The Frontline, a multiracial coalition effort to galvanize voters, said she plans to engage in the rigorous organizing work needed to push Harris and Biden toward more progressive policies.

“I deeply believe in the power of Black women’s leadership, even when all of our politics don’t align,” Byrd said. “I want us to be committed to the idea that representation is exciting and it’s worthy of celebration and also that we have millions of Black women who deserve a fair shot.”

VIDEO: Biden promotes unity, turns to business of transition after U.S. election win

Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Her colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, who is also Black, said her very presence makes the institution “more accessible to more people” and suggested she would accomplish the same with the vice presidency.

Harris was born in 1964 to two parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life.

“When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible,” Harris said Saturday night.

Kamala is Sanskrit for “lotus flower,” and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.

The mocking of her name by Republicans, including Trump, was just one of the attacks Harris faced. Trump and his allies sought to brand her as radical and a socialist despite her more centrist record, an effort aimed at making people uncomfortable about the prospect of a Black woman in leadership. She was the target of online disinformation laced with racism and sexism about her qualifications to serve as president.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Harris’ power comes not just from her life experience but also from the people she already represents. California is the nation’s most populous and one of its most diverse states; nearly 40% of people are Latino and 15% are Asian. In Congress, Harris and Jayapal have teamed up on bills to ensure legal representation for Muslims targeted by Trump’s 2017 travel ban and to extend rights to domestic workers.

“That’s the kind of policy that also happens when you have voices like ours at the table,” said Jayapal, who in 2016 was the first South Asian woman elected to the U.S. House.

Harris’ mother raised her daughters with the understanding the world would see them as Black women, Harris has said, and that is how she describes herself today.

She attended Howard University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first sorority created by and for Black women. She campaigned regularly at HBCUs and tried to address the concerns of young Black men and women eager for strong efforts to dismantle systemic racism.

Her victory could usher more Black women and people of colour into politics.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who considers Harris a mentor, views Harris’ success through the lens of her own identity as the granddaughter of a sharecropper.

“African Americans are not far removed from slavery and the horrors of racism in this country, and we’re still feeling the impacts of that with how we’re treated and what’s happening around this racial uprising,” she said. Harris’ candidacy “instills a lot of pride and a lot of hope and a lot of excitement in what is possible.”

Harris is married to a Jewish man, Doug Emhoff, whose children from a previous marriage call her “Momala.” The excitement about her candidacy extends to women across races.

Friends Sarah Lane and Kelli Hodge, each with three daughters, brought all six girls to a Harris rally in Phoenix in the race’s closing days. “This car is full of little girls who dream big. Go Kamala!” read a sign taped on the car’s trunk.

Lane, a 41-year-old attorney who is of Hispanic and Asian heritage, volunteered for Biden and Harris, her first time ever working for a political campaign. Asked why she brought her daughters, ages 6, 9, and 11, to see Harris, she answered, “I want my girls to see what women can do.”

___

Associated Press writer Kat Stafford in Detroit contributed to this report.

Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Joe BidenUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langley residents took their questions and concerns to TransLink’s open house at Langley City Hall in November of 2019. (Langley Advance Times files)
LETTER: Langley MP’s SkyTrain request will go nowhere

Liberal government will ignore Conservative MP’s call for SkyTrain funding

Langley City’s Gregory Douglas snapped a picture of a rainbow over the downtown core Tuesday, Nov. 24. “Just wanted to share this beautiful view that I happened to capture today, that illustrates not only Mother Nature’s beauty,” but what an “amazing city” we live in. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
SHARE: Langley City resident discovers treasure and both ends of the rainbow

Send us your photo showing how you view Langley, and it could be featured in a future edition

Sonya Perkins of Langley’s Forever Yours Lingerie said there’ve been challenges, but customers are supporting local shops during the pandemic. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
‘Shop Local’ key as Langley businesses work through COVID

Business groups are trying to encourage local buying to keep stores alive

Army and Navy was in business for more than a century but closed earlier this year, citing COVID-19 as the cause. The space at Langley Mall has been taken over by McFrugal’s Discount Outlet. (Lisa Farquharson/Black Press Media)
Few closures as Langley businesses battle COVID-19 downturn

Smaller, Canadian chains among casualties locally

Velma MacAllister, coordinator of the Langley Christmas Bureau, holds up donated gift cards at the bureau’s temporary location at Timms Community Centre in Langley City. The bureau is in need of cash, gift card or cheque donations this year to support 800 local families. (Joti Grewal/Langley Advance Times)
Generosity imperative this holiday season

Langley Christmas Bureau is dependent on the donation of gift cards this year

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Police lights
Vancouver elementary school locked down after unknown man walks into classroom

Police arrested the man and sent him for a psych evaluation

Most Read