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Kamala Harris’ most inspiring quotes on ambition, leadership and breaking barriers

As Kamala Harris is named vice president-elect in the 2020 US election, Stylist looks back at some of her most powerful moments.

Just when we thought 2020 was going to be a complete write-off, the US election has given us something to celebrate. Although the process isn’t 100% over (Trump has yet to concede and has made it clear he has no plans to do so), multiple news organisations have officially called the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

As the new vice president-elect, Harris will become the first woman and the first woman of colour to take on the role.

To digest the sheer magnitude of her achievement, consider this: when Harris – who is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India – was born in October 1964, Black women in many of the US’ Southern states were still blocked from voting because of discriminatory voting practices. It was only one year later, in 1965, that the Voting Rights Act – which was designed to outlaw and prohibit racial discrimination in voting – was signed into law. 

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Although it’s clear that Biden and Harris have a lot of work to do to ensure they make a real difference for people across America, now is also a time to celebrate this historic moment and the woman at the centre of it all.

So here, in celebration of Kamala Harris’ latest achievement, we thought we’d take a look back at some of her best quotes from throughout her trailblazing career. 

On women making history

Taking to the stage last night (7 November) to celebrate her and Biden’s achievement, Harris spoke emotively about the women who made her victory possible, and how she hopes to inspire the next generation of female leaders.

Paying tribute to all the people who had helped her on the campaign trail, she said: “To the woman most responsible for my presence here today – my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts. When she came here from India at the age of 19, maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.”

Harris continued: “I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women — Black Women, Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty, and justice for all, including the Black women, who are too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.”

“What a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his vice president. But while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

On making your voice heard

One of the most iconic moments from the 2020 election campaign came during Harris’ debate with the current vice president Mike Pence when the latter tried to speak over one of Harris’ arguments.

Her response? “Mr vice president, I’m speaking. If you don’t mind letting me finish, then we can have a conversation.”

On ambition

Before Joe Biden selected Harris to be his running mate, the Californian senator faced a number of personal attacks related to whether or not she would be a trustworthy partner – but Harris was having none of it.

Speaking at the Black Girls Lead 2020 conference, she said: “There will be a resistance to your ambition, there will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane.’

“They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be – but don’t let that burden you.”

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris' best quotes: “There will be a resistance to your ambition, there will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane.’ They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be.”

On Trump’s leadership

Throughout her political career, Harris has repeatedly shown that she’s not afraid to speak out against the people and policies she believes aren’t in the right – including Donald Trump.

Although she has criticised the current president numerous times (for good reason), one of her most powerful quotes came during Hurricane Dorian, when Trump showed an apparent lack of concern for the lives that were at risk.

“He just does not have the ability to really have a sense of empathy for people who are enduring hardship or enduring pain,” Harris began. “We have to acknowledge that this president really lacks – I don’t know, there’s just something missing. He lacks the ability to have empathy or sympathy or concern.”

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She continued: “The president of the United States should be in the position of saying ‘I will always work in the best interest of the people and their wellbeing and their safety,’ not ridiculing and throwing things at people and picking petty fights.

“This is a moment, especially in a moment of crisis, for leadership. And this president is lacking in the ability to lead.”

On imposter syndrome

During her campaign to be picked as the Democrats’ presidential candidate, Harris made a lot of time to speak to young girls and women on the campaign trail – and in the process shared some seriously helpful advice about imposter syndrome and self-doubt.

Speaking to two young women outside her rally in Iowa, Harris said: “You never have to ask anyone permission to lead. I want you to remember that, OK? When you want to lead, you lead.”

On leadership

Getting straight to the point in an Instagram post published at the beginning of 2019, Harris wrote: “Anyone who claims to be a leader must speak like a leader. That means speaking with integrity and truth.”

On being the first

Harris has achieved a number of firsts throughout her career – she was California’s first Black attorney general and first woman attorney general, and she was also California’s first Black senator. And while she’s proud of these achievements, she’s also aware of the responsibility she carries to ensure others are able to follow in her footsteps.

Speaking during a lecture at Spelman College in 2018, she said: “My mother used to tell me – she would tell my sister – my mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last’.

“And that’s why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us.”

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris' best quotes: “My mother used to tell me, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last’.”

On the idea of ‘Black women’s issues’

During her Spelman College lecture, Harris also spoke about how she is often asked to talk about ‘Black women’s issues,’ and what that really means to her.

“It’s interesting, because as the first Black woman elected to the many positions I’ve been elected to, I am often in rooms, and have been in rooms, where a reporter or someone else will come up to me and they’ll say, ‘So talk to us about Black women’s issues.’ And I’ll look at them and think, ‘You know what, I am so glad you want to talk about the economy.’ Or sometimes say, ‘I am so glad you want to talk about national security.’ Because what we know is this: yes, there are issues that explicitly impact the Black community.”

Going on to acknowledge the fact that, for example, Black women are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy in the United States, Harris went on to explain why the idea of ‘Black women’s issues’ is so limiting to her, and why she refuses to be pigeonholed into conversations which make assumptions about her identity.

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“Simply put, every issue is a Black woman’s issue,” she said. “And Black women’s issues are everyone’s issues.

“In fact, there was a time that Ruth Simmons, the former provost here at Spelman, and the first Black woman to lead an Ivy League university, was asked why she got a PhD in French literature and I love what she said. Because of course, the implication was that it would not be an appropriate topic for a Black woman to study. And what she said, is, when they asked her why, she said, ‘Well, because, everything in the world belongs to me.’”

She added: “I want you to know that when you walk into every room you ever walk into, do not be burdened by someone else’s assumptions of who you are. Do not be burdened by their perspectives or judgment, and do not let anyone ever tell you who you are.”

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