Kamala Harris, a Political Fighter Shaped by Life In Two Worlds

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“I’m crying,” said Amelia Ashley-Ward, a friend and the publisher of The Sun-Reporter, a publication aimed at the African-American community in San Francisco. “When I first met Kamala Harris, I always felt that God had something a little extra for her.”

Those who know her say she can be difficult to pin down in part because she is, by virtue of her identity, not like any political figure who came before — a lawmaker whose strengths and tics can at times feel incongruous.

As a young candidate for district attorney, Ms. Harris was by turns an irrepressible fixture in supermarket parking lots, unfurling an ironing board from her car as a canvas for campaign materials, and a canny veteran of the San Francisco society pages, with an overstuffed Filofax full of high-end fund-raising contacts. (Friends eventually made her switch to a Palm Pilot.)

She can project an air of disarming nonchalance, holding forth on cooking and 1990s hip-hop music with a just-between-us touch. She has also often defaulted to a political reticence so firmly held that her own aides had trouble identifying her positions on several key issues throughout a 2020 campaign that did not make it to 2020.

Tired of being pressed to explain her personal experiences of racism as a historic first, she privately bristles at some of the treatment she has received from the news media, donors and political strategists. Ms. Harris is known to share, with equal parts fatigue and exasperation, an anecdote about an unidentified journalist who asked why she would ever choose Howard University, the crown jewel of historically Black colleges and universities, over the Ivy League.

“I’m really sick of having to explain my experiences with racism to people,” she said in a June interview, “for them to understand that it exists.”

For Ms. Harris, the firstborn daughter of immigrant academics from India and Jamaica, political activism was a kind of birthright. Her maternal grandparents fought for Indian independence from British rule and educated rural women about contraception. Her parents protested for civil and voting rights as doctoral students at the University of California, Berkeley.

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