WASHINGTON: She’s a social media star, a sharp legal eagle, a successful techie, and a savvy entrepreneur in her own right. Her business venture pre-dates Kamala Harris‘ election as the US vice-president. But Meena Harris is finding that name-association with her aunt is cramping her style — and her business. The veep’s niece is under pressure to cap her independent business ventures amid charges that she is seeking to profit from the growing fame of her aunt by selling merchandise associated with her words and vision.
Four years ago, the Stanford University and Harvard Law School alumna who has worked in Facebook and Uber started her own company Phenomenal to sell apparel with socially conscious and feminist messages, including celebrating ambition among women. She often posted photos of herself with celebrities wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts with words such as “Ambition” “Black Lives Matter” and “Phenomenal” on Instagram — where she has 800,000 followers — alongside selfies with her aunt.
Things were pretty kosher and attracted little criticism — till Kamala Harris was elected vice-president. Shortly before she was to be sworn in, Meena was interviewed on the “Today” show by Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former President George W. Bush, in which she discussed the historic nature of her aunt’s election, along with a pitch for her latest children’s book, “Ambitious Girl,” released on the eve of the inauguration. She wore a pink “Ambitious” sweatshirt as photos of her and her aunt were interspersed with the interview.
The appearance attracted adverse comments from White House ethics lawyers although Meena has been promoting books and merchandize about her family’s values back when her aunt was a Senator. In an article for ELLE Magazine entitled ‘What My Aunt Kamala Taught Me About Ambition’, soon after the November 3 election, she invoked Mary J. Blige’s song Work That (a Kamala favorite) to write: “This song is an ode to the type of woman my grandma raised — my aunt, my mom, and me to be. There’s a word for this type of woman: ambitious. And I want my daughters, and every other girl in the world, to understand that this word describes something powerful and good.” Kamala too has spoken about ambition being a positive attribute in women.
But ethics mavens are now arguing that Meena’s recent appearance on television and social media promoting merchandise based on Kamala’s utterances is tantamount to getting a free ride for her personal brand with her aunt’s ascendant political career. “Some things can’t be undone. That being said: Behavior needs to change,” an unnamed White House official told the Los Angeles Times.
Soon after Kamala Harris’ election transition ethics lawyers reportedly told Meena she could not continue to sell items that bore her aunt’s name – including the ‘Kamala Harris Swimsuit’, ‘Phenomenal Kamala Tank, and ‘Kamala T-shirt’. The items were subsequently removed from her site. Pledges followed from Kamala’s office “to uphold the highest ethical standards and it’s the White House’s policy that the Vice President’s name should not be used in connection with any commercial activities that could reasonably be understood to imply an endorsement or support.”
Now there are demands — fueled partly by the right-wing media — to remove even merchandise that are deemed obliquely related to Kamala: $59 sweatshirts with the words “Ambitious” and “I’m Speaking,” — a phrase that went viral when then vice-president Mike Pence repeatedly interrupted her during the debate. Also to be canned: a $ 18.99 children’s picture book called Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, published in June 2020, which celebrates the story of how Meena was raised by her then single mom Maya and her aunt Kamala.
“평생 사상가. 웹 광신자. 좀비 중독자. 커뮤니케이터. 창조자. 프리랜서 여행 애호가.”