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The Kamala Harris persona decoded in her fight song: ‘Work That’

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New York, Jan 18, 2021-
When Kamala Harris walks out on stage, you can almost hear the familiar sounds of Mary J Bliges girl power anthem “Work That” which tops the US Vice President-elects 46-song playlist on Spotify.

The scrappy, can-do spirit of the song’s lyrics have foretold some of Harris’ runaway hits from the 2020 election campaign and serve as proxy for the America of “possibilities” that President-elect Joe Biden and Harris have pitched as their comeback theme.

Harris’ “I eat no for breakfast” remark during an ‘ask me anything’ session on social media echoes the combative mood of “let em get mad, They gonna hate anyway, Don’t you get that?”

“Just because the length of your hair ain’t long, And they often criticize you for your skin tone, Wanna hold your head high, Cause you’re a pretty woman… Read the book of my life, And see I’ve overcome it,” sings Blige.

Harris’ victory lap singled out girl children around the world, urging them to “dream with ambition”.

She promised: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last — because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

The parallels go beyond Harris. Her mother Shyamala Gopalan’s audacious journey is reflected in the music that Harris has come to love.

Blige’s repeated notes of “Work that thing out, Work that thing out, Work what you got” is equally the tale of Gopalan’s life in Oakland, California, from where Harris’ historic campaign was first launched.

Back in 1958, Gopalan came to the US as a 19-year-old, clutching a scholarship and her dream to become a cancer researcher. Such is Gopalan’s sway over Kamala’s life and work that there is rarely a public event where the Vice President-elect does not invoke her mother’s memory.

Blige’s “Don’t worry bout who’s saying what, It’s gonna be fine, Work what you got” is as much an ode to Gopalan’s determination to break into the US higher education circuit with whatever tools she had.

Gopalan was enrolled in a course she didn’t particularly fancy – Home Science – and wanted to study biochemistry. “Work what you got” is the thing she did, landed a scholarship at one of California’s finest schools and offered it as a fait accompli to her father.

For every Blige line like this, “I hear you been running, From the beautiful queen, That you could be becoming” we discover Harris’ prose with a rhyming quality that often approaches music.

Sample this: “My sister Maya and I were raised by a strong mother. My mother taught us the importance of a good education. She taught us the good old-fashioned value of hard work. She taught us don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. She taught us not only to dream but to do. She taught us to believe in our power to right what is wrong. And she was the kind of parent who if you came home complaining about something, she’d say ‘Well what are you gonna do about it?’ So I decided to run for President of the US.”

After the collapse of her own presidential run, when Harris rose again as Biden’s running mate, she finally hit what her walk-on song calls the “runway stride”.

“And keep going,” urges Blige.

Harris eggs us on: “Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way.” (Agency)

From Shyamala Gopalan to Kamala Devi Harris: A timeline of two audacious journeys

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