The Multifaceted Identity of VP-Elect Kamala Harris and its Implications

By Tyler Jett

As a multiethnic, mixed-race woman, vice president-elect Kamala Harris has shattered numerous glass ceilings throughout her political career. However, during her four years, Harris will be under the spotlight for her confrontation of the nation’s deeply fortified racial divide as the Democratic party scrambles to address the entrenched systemic issues in the United States.

Born to an Indian Tamil Brahmin mother and Jamaican immigrant father who met in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Harris is the first female vice president-elect and the first Black, South Asian, and Caribbean person in history to win the second-highest US office. Harris’s remarkable ascent follows the increasingly diverse trend in the Democratic party and suggests a future Democratic ticket of two white men is improbable. The Kerry-Edwards ticket in the 2004 election was the last time the Democrats selected an all-white, all-male suite. The embracement of diversity in such a high position of global power is simultaneously an emblem of American progress and a grim admonition of the looming systemic racial challenges. The Biden-Harris victory was welcomed with palpable relief after four tumultuous years of Trumpism fueled by racially inflammatory rhetoric, provoking division, and encouraging White supremacist-terrorist groups. A monumental 81 million voters secured the election victory for Biden-Harris, exceeding any other presidential candidate in history. Yet, Trump’s 74 million ballots, an increase of 11 million from 2016, underscores the reality that his supporters are apathetic towards his bigotry.

As both Senator and vice president-elect, Harris has championed progressive policies of criminal justice reform; however, her legacy as a career prosecutor begets contention. Preceding her 2016 Senate win, Harris served as California as a prosecutor, district attorney, and attorney general positions in which the self-proclaimed “top cop” ratified a myriad of controversial judicial decisions that impacted the greatest victims of bias in the American criminal justice system — Black males. One in three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Her record came under scrutiny during her failed presidential campaign in 2019. 

The implications of electing an architect of the prison industrial complex — who endorsed further police financing — and a career prosecutor amid calls to defund the police in the longest and most sustained movement for black lives against police violence unveil the wickedness and grossly performative nature of American politics. Harris’s “tough on crime” politics followed the popular and bipartisan trend at the, yet her stance simply worked to expand the carceral superstructure and harm communities of color. Within her first three years as district attorney, the conviction rate in San Francisco soared from 52 to 67 percent. She spearheaded the war on truancy that led to the prosecution of parents of children missed ten percent of school days https, defended the vicious Three Strikes Law in California which implies a life sentence to many of those convicted of a minor felony. She denied gender reaffirming surgery to trans inmates and fought attempts to hold police accountable for shootings.

Despite their mixed records on criminal justice issues, the Biden-Harris team endorse relatively aggressive criminal justice reform plans. Harris also touts a more progressive record in Congress, especially in criticizing Trump’s immigration policy and cosponsoring police reform bills that won her praise. Unfortunately, her identity as a biracial woman makes her a target for supporters of Trumpism. The former top cop will likely continue to break barriers and fearlessly tackle the obstacles ahead. Harris is an inspiration to young women of color everywhere, yet the question becomes whether their idol will reunite a violently divided America.

Works Cited

Canavan, Eileen J., FEC § (2005). 

https://www.fec.gov/resources/cms-content/documents/federalelections2004.pdf.

Hakim, Danny, Stephanie Saul, and Richard A. Oppel. “’Top Cop’ Kamala Harris’s Record 

of Policing the Police.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 9, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/09/us/politics/kamala-harris-policing.html.

JACINTO, Leela. “VP-Elect Kamala Harris Ticks Many Firsts, but the Old Problem of 

Racism Still Lurks.” France 24. France 24, November 10, 2020. https://www.france24.com/en/americas/20201110-vp-elect-kamala-harris-ticks-many-firsts-but-the-old-problem-of-racism-still-lurks.

Judicial Council of California. “California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law.” California 

Courts. The Judicial Branch of California, May 2017. https://www.courts.ca.gov/20142.htm.

Kim, Catherine, and Zack Stanton. “What You Need to Know about Kamala Harris.” 

POLITICO. POLITICO, August 24, 2020. https://www.politico.eu/article/kamala-harris-what-you-need-to-know/.

Lopez, German. “Kamala Harris’s Controversial Record on Criminal Justice, Explained.” 

Vox. Vox, January 23, 2019. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/1/23/18184192/kamala-harris-president-campaign-criminal-justice-record.

Oliphant, James. “Kamala Harris Breaks Barriers as America’s next Vice President.” 

Reuters. Thomson Reuters, November 7, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-harris-profile-newsmaker/kamala-harris-breaks-barriers-as-americas-next-vice-president-idUSKBN27N0M3.

Staff, ACLU. “Mass Incarceration.” American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil 

Liberties Union, 2020. https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice/mass-incarceration/mass-incarceration-animated-series.

“Understanding the Election: AP.” Associated Press. Accessed December 2, 2020. 

https://www.ap.org/media-center/understanding-the-election.

Wilton, Phil. “Kamala Harris Should Take Bolder Action on Police Shootings, Civil Rights 

Advocates Say.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2016. https://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-pol-ca-harris-police-shootings-20160118-story.html. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s