7 things you didn’t know about: Kamala Harris

U.S vice-presidential elect Kamala Harris.
U.S vice-presidential elect Kamala Harris.
Image: Andrew Harnik/Reuters

In what can only be described as the culmination of a long, hard, and tumultuous presidential campaign, President-Elect Joseph R Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office as America’s first- and second-in-command, ending what was, for many Americans, a difficult four years under the outgoing President Donald Trump.

But, in addition to the millions of Americans who are thrilled with the outcome of this election, women the world over are celebrating the symbolic significance of Kamala Harris’s victory, for not only will she be the first female VP in American history, she will also be the first Black American and the first Asian-American person to assume the role of vice president.

Before Joe Biden selected VP Elect Harris to be his running mate in August last year, she was a fairly anonymous figure: not in America, certainly, where Harris – a Democratic presidential candidate herself at one point – was already immersed in politics at the highest level, but certainly as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

Here are seven things you might not have known about Kamala Harris.

1. She is the daughter of immigrants

Kamala Devi Harris was born in California in 1964, to Donald Harris, a Stanford professor originally from Jamaica, and Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a brilliant young biologist from Tamil Nadu in India.

2. She’s used to being “The First”

Harris already made history when she became San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2004. Not only was Harris the first person of colour to act as DA for San Francisco, she was also the first woman.

Subsequently, Harris was the first African-American and the first woman to serve as the Attorney General of California. And, as of tomorrow, Harris will be the first African American vice president, the first Indian-American vice president, and the first female vice president ever to serve the US in this capacity.

3. Her husband, Doug Emhoff, is also going to be “a first” or two!

Kamala Harris married her husband, lawyer Douglas Craig Emhoff, in 2014. When she is inaugurated as VP today, Emhoff will officially become the first “Second Gentleman,” and the first Jewish spouse to be married to an American vice president.

Harris refers to her husband as “Dougie” in interviews, and he’s made it clear that his priority going forward will be to support his beloved wife, while also taking up a teaching position at Washington’s prestigious Georgetown University Law Centre.

4. Her name means Lotus in Sanskrit

Several male politicians tried to undermine Harris’s legitimacy over the course of the (highly contentious) presidential campaign by deliberately making fun of and mispronouncing her first name, Kamala. As many South Africans know all too well, disrespecting somebody’s name is a way of attacking their roots, their worth, and their very identity, and Harris made it clear from the get-go that she was not going to accept their abuse lying down.

5. She studied at a famous historically Black college 

Harris studied at Howard University, a famous historically Black college in Washington DC. She majored in political science and economics; she was an involved student activist who participated in anti-apartheid demonstrations, as well as a fun-loving member of the university’s Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Harris went on to study law at the University of California, Hastings.

6.Her step-children call her “Momala”

Harris’ spouse Emhoff has two children, Cole and Ella, from an earlier marriage to film producer Kerstin Emhoff. The whole blended family is obviously close, as Emhoff’s children refer to their step-mother as “Momala”; and Kamala is even reported to be on really good terms with her husband’s ex-wife, who posted a celebratory message on Instagram the day Joe and Kamala won: “So proud! So relieved… Congratulations to Kamala and Doug for making history!”

7. She’s quickly become famous for wearing her Chucks everywhere

Quite early on in the campaign trail, the American public noticed that, while she’s almost always seen wearing immaculate suits and blazers, Harris danced her way from state to state wearing an assortment of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

According to her husband, these have always been a staple for the busy Attorney General; she’s worn them with everything for as long as he’s known her. While she insists that she chooses her kicks for comfort, it’s clear that these shoes go a long way towards making her seem more joyful and self-aware than some of her dour-faced counterparts.