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

Labour Minister Harry Bains addressing Surrey Board of Trade digital meeting Friday. (Screen shot)
Labour Minister says Surrey businesses’ resilience through pandemic ‘impressive’

‘Surrey’s effort in bending the curve has been among the best,’ Harry Bains says

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Students, volunteers remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

Day-long project a collaboration between city, Lower Mainland Green Team

Raj Singh Toor (left) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudea after an official apology for the treatment of Komagata Maru passengers in 1914. (Contributed photo)
Request made for City of White Rock to honour Komagata Maru passengers

Raj Singh Toor confident city will rename ‘street, park or city asset’ in honour of 1914 tragedy

Cloverdale robbery suspect. (Surrey RCMP photo)
Man charged in relation to four separate robberies in Cloverdale

Jake Eric Henderson allegedly committed four gas station robberies in January

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Most Read