‘I am everything that Donald Trump hates’: Karine Jean-Pierre
US President-elect Joe Biden has appointed an all-female communications staff to lead his White House press team, with the (somewhat) French-speaking Karine Jean-Pierre serving as principal deputy press secretary. The talented speaker previously worked as Kamala Harris’s campaign chief of staff.
1. Haitian roots
Karine Jean-Pierre was born in 1977 in Fort-de-France, Martinique, where her Haitian-born parents landed after fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship.
When she was five years old, her family moved to the borough of Queens in New York City, where she grew up. Initially wooed by the myth of the American dream, her parents’ hopes were quickly dashed by the hardships of living as immigrants in the United States. Despite having an engineering degree, her father went to work as a taxi driver while her mother became a home health aide.
2. Ivy League education
In 2003, Karine graduated from the prestigious Columbia University with a Master of Public Affairs degree. She returned to her alma mater in 2014 as a faculty member.
3. Lesbian identity
Karine is a black woman from an immigrant family and a lesbian to boot. No matter where she is, she is outspoken and proud about her identity. Married to CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, they adopted a girl together, naming her Soleil. After the presidential transition, Karine will be the first black and lesbian woman to be deputy White House press secretary.
She had the following to say about her experience working on the team – which she joined in 2008 – of the 44th US president: “Serving and working for President Obama, where you can be openly gay, has been an amazing honour. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritises LGBT issues.”
4. A left-wing Democrat
As a vegetarian, environmentalist and minority rights activist, Karine undeniably represents the left wing of the Democratic Party. When it comes to social policy, she is aligned with the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
5. From Obama to Harris
Nothing in her background hinted at her future in politics. By her account, her parents wanted her to become a doctor or a lawyer. “Where my parents are from, politics was associated with corruption,” she once wrote in an article. Her family’s experience was shaped by Haiti’s Duvalier regime.
After an encounter with David Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor, at the age of 20, she decided to take the plunge and he became her mentor. He died this past November. In 2008, she joined Barack Obama’s campaign and was appointed regional political director during his first term of office. In her parents’ eyes, she had finally realised their “American dream”. Ready to close the curtain on Donald Trump’s presidency, she became campaign chief of staff to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who sees her as a valuable asset.
6. ‘Everything Trump hates’
Karine never misses out on an opportunity to remind people that she is “everything that Donald Trump hates”. In 2018, she was shocked by the Republican president’s comments in which he described Haiti and several African nations as “shithole countries”. To combat the “bigotry” and “hate” espoused by the US president, she became involved in and a prominent figure of the progressive public policy advocacy group MoveOn, an active part of the anti-Trump movement.
She is firmly opposed to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including the Muslim ban, and condemned the deportation of “Dreamers”, a subset of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as young children.
7. Accused of being ‘anti-Israel’
Since her appointment was announced, a number of media outlets and conservative activists have accused her of being “anti-Israel”. The criticism, drawing on a story published by the far-right website Breitbart News, is related to an opinion piece she wrote for the US magazine Newsweek.
The article in question, “Why 2020 Democrats Skipped AIPAC: Pro-Israel Group Is Often the Antithesis of Progressive Values”, published in March 2019, is a scathing critique of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group. In the piece, she argues that AIPAC supported Trump’s immigration policies, including the Muslim ban, that take aim at the Arab world.
8. The ‘taboo’ of depression
In her book Moving Forward, released in November 2019, Karine recounts her experience with depression, a topic she feels is “taboo” in the African-American community.
As the eldest of three children in a family of hard-working parents, she had to take on a lot of responsibilities from a young age. Once she reached adulthood, she struggled to deal with her family commitments and the social stress related to her sexuality. In her book, she writes that her troubles accumulated to the point that she tried to commit suicide when she was at university.
9. (A little bit) French-speaking?
Since her appointment was announced, many French media outlets have highlighted her French-speaking credentials, but her command of the language is limited. According to the Quebecois journalist Frédéric Arnould, “She understands French, but doesn’t feel comfortable speaking it fluently.”
10. A TV political commentator
In Washington, her new position should suit her perfectly. Though she has no training as a journalist, she is an adept communicator. Thanks to her public speaking talents, she has become a sought-after political analyst, appearing on television news programmes on the American channels NBC News and MSNBC.