The real miracle is that Kamala Harris broke the glass ceiling to get to where she is — only, as the phrase goes, within a heartbeat of the presidency. Black voters did not consider her black enough. Indian voters were disappointed that she had always underestimated her South Asian heritage. Many other voters may not know what to do with it.
Take a look at the fact that she was a first-term senator who roamed the jungles of Washington. He only shone in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings where she laid out why she built her reputation as a feared litigation counsel. It was not a popular photo that won the votes.
On the other side of the scale were factors like that she was clearly smart, had a million dollar smile that carried all the way to her eyes and probably gave voters the feeling here that she was someone they could safely vote for.
Chidanand Rajgata, a veteran Washington correspondent, is well positioned to undo the rise of 56-year-old Harris to become the first woman, first African American and first Asian American vice president.
Kamala’s amazing mother
In many ways, the most fascinating journey is in this interesting biography: Kamala Harris: An Extraordinary Woman It was by her mother Shyamala. (The book’s title is inspired by the campaign slogan of Mina’s niece, lawyer Kamala, “The Colossal Woman.”) In the 1950s, a few Indians made the journey across Black Bunny to study in America.
Shyamala’s experience at the age of 19 was extraordinary once she arrived at UC Berkeley. Standing in line to register for classes in 1958, she began chatting with Cedric Robinson, a black teenager who had become the dean of black studies. This encounter marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship and, more importantly, an entry into the black culture that most Indians shunned.
Shyamala has taken an active part in the African American Association. Rajghatta notes that “her accession to the black community was before the arrival of the Jamaican (Donald Harris) who would become her husband.” This influence was key in explaining why she raised Kamala and her younger sister Maya as Black despite her Tamil Brahmin background in southern India, he says, even though she gave her daughters Indian names to preserve their Indian cultural identity.
Harris, a doctoral student in economics, met Shyamala on the Berkeley campus when she was studying for her Ph.D. Their civil rights activism united them, and they married a year later. But the marriage lasted only eight years. The sisters sang in the black church children’s choir. The couple separated when Kamala was seven and her sister was five amid professional struggles.
Shyamala wanted to pursue a career as a cancer scientist and was apparently unwilling to take a back seat to her husband whose profession of teaching economics was taking him to different parts of the country.
While the girls visited their father frequently after their divorce and went with him to Jamaica where they met his side of the family, it was Kamala’s mother, “Every five foot tall nothing but a giant in her life who shaped Kamala into the strength that she is,” says Rajghatta. This was It is the influence of Shyamala, there is seldom a public discourse where Kamala does not recall her mother who died of cancer 12 years ago.Shyamala, as her daughter likes to say, “had a sense of justice on her soul.”
Black Community Connection
Kamala’s relationship with the black community became closer after the divorce when a black neighbor took the family under her wing.
Shyamala taught her daughters how to cook Indian dishes and took the girls back to see their grandparents in India to keep their Indian connections alive. But she also used to play Aretha Franklin in Nana Simone’s performance as young, talented, and black. Kamala said the family considered the song an anthem.
Shyamala was a tough task manager who did not believe in meek pampering or winning meek black girls. “If you don’t define yourself, people will try to define you” was one of her favorite phrases. After he missed a promotion at Berkeley, Shyamala took a research job at McGill University in Montreal where Kamala attended high school. But once she graduated, Kamala returned to the United States to study at Howard University in Washington, D.C., an institution known as “Black Harvard”.
Kamala went to study law. Unusually, though, the first student failed the California Bar exam on her first attempt. Kamala was angry at herself for giving “the most uncertain performance of my life” but was in good company: Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton failed the first round of the exam.
Kamala decided to embark on a career as a public prosecutor rather than a public defender, much to the chagrin of her socially progressive mother, saying that in this way she could reform the unequal justice system from within. She rejected the binary idea of being soft or hard with crime, insisting that the way forward was to “smart” crime, and to design programs to get young criminals back on the right track. Kamala liked to describe herself as a “progressive prosecutor.” However, critics said she was not progressive enough.
Her performance led to criticism that she had too much respect for the police and failed to lobby enough on issues such as same-sex marriage and the abolition of the death penalty. But advocates say some of her stances were essential to her political survival.
When she was 29, she dated Willie Brown, a powerful politician twice her age who was the Speaker of the California State Assembly. This brief relationship led to suggestions, which have emerged to this day, that he gave her career a timely boost. (What is known is that Brown gave her a BMW.) However, even if Brown did not appear in Kamala’s life, Rajghatta says she was already a rising star in the courtroom. She was elected as an attorney for the state of San Francisco, moved to the position of attorney general for the state of California and became a senator in 2017.
Politics, blood sport
Her political career was made in California where politics is a “blood sport,” as Kamala recounts, half jokingly. Then, although she was attacked early on in her Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden chose her to be the vice president.
Despite ambushed him by a school bus during her presidential run – implying he was a racist – Biden rose above the attack. He had known Kamala for years, and they shared the same “change” agenda, and as Biden said, there was the “empathy” factor. In his comprehensive and meticulous analysis, Rajghatta says that Kamala has undoubtedly “crossed most squares” thanks to her stellar power and political expertise. “She had the ability to vote,” he says.
Now Kamala is dealing with the reality of being vice president, a role that’s traditionally unpleasant, and struggling with historically low approval rates of 28 percent of a still-angry electorate. Her supporters say she has been overburdened with a lot of work and that some of the problems she has been assigned are intractable, such as the Mexican border crisis. They also say that she is being attacked because she is a black woman.
Can Kamala change her fortunes and win the 2024 Democratic nomination if Biden (he will turn 82) does not run? Rajghatta says he is not holding his breath. “The mob has already gone out to get it and it will be relentless,” he says.
(The reviewer is a Delhi-based former Reuters reporter who writes on international politics, business and health)
Title: Kamala Harris: A Wonderful Woman
Author: Chidhanand Rajghatta
Price: 599 d
Click here to read the book on Amazon