Douglas Emhoff and Kamala Harris by the Forward

What Instagram tells us about Kamala Harris’s modern family

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The Democratic National Convention, which began Monday night, is a crucial political moment in the 2020 presidential campaign, a chance for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to rally momentum around their base and make their case before undecided American voters.

But national party conventions are also important human moments, when nominees’ families appear on the national stage, often for the first time. No one knows how that will look at this year’s virtual gathering, but it’s very possible that Harris’s husband, Jewish lawyer Doug Emhoff, and her two step-children will make cameos during the proceedings.

By now, we’ve learned a little about Harris’ modern American family. Emhoff, her husband of six years, is doing his very best to become America’s first Second Gentleman by relentlessly and endearingly boosting his wife on social media. Harris has also spoken of her close relationship with Doug’s children, Cole and Ella Emhoff, who bestowed upon her the Yiddish-inflected nickname “Momala.”

“I was already hooked on Doug, but I believe it was Cole and Ella who reeled me in,” she wrote in an “Elle” essay about her courtship.

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Grateful every day to be Momala to Ella and Cole.

A post shared by Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris) on

But what do we know about the kids themselves? While Cole and Ella — named for iconic jazz musicians John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald — have never given public interviews, their Instagram feeds give a window into the not-so-secret life of the potential second family. Here’s what a quick tour has told us so far.

Harris’s step-kids are way cooler than you.

For every lovingly captioned family photo their father posts on Instagram, Cole and Ella Emhoff volley back with irreverent snapshots redolent of West Coast cool. They’re two very accomplished young people: Cole, a 2017 graduate of Colorado College, works for Plan B Entertainment, while Ella is a junior at Parsons School of Design. Per their Instagrams, however, they also spend a lot of time a) looking at avant-garde art installations b) participating in avant-garde art installations c) reveling in their fashionably disheveled hair or d) all of the above.

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straight from the airport pet portrait

A post shared by ella emhoff (@ellaemhoff) on

While they stay away from their father’s public demonstrations of familial affection, they do occasionally post extremely sweet things about each other. In a 2017 post for Cole’s birthday, Ella declared her older sibling “easily the coolest brother and bestest friend.”

The only thing spoiling their cool factor? The effusive parental comments that accompany almost every post they make. A #aesthetic selfie Cole posted with his girlfriend after the two apparently moved in together earned this one from Doug (and, it seems, Harris herself): “So proud of you Cole!! Love, K&D.”

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Big Move (2019)

A post shared by @ coleemhoff on

Ella is seriously good at art in all its forms.

The potential second daughter, who is majoring in textiles and apparel, uses Instagram to model her various projects, from trippy self-portraits to knitted sweatpants and a crocheted house jacket with some serious chutzpah.

Fans of her art can bring it home. On her website, Ella offers commissions of her clothing, ceramics, drawings and paintings.

Cole loves his dogs.

Cole’s minimal Instagram presence is largely devoted to selfies with his girlfriend and snapshots of the Emhoff family’s two schnoodles (yes, this is an actual breed of dog, half schnauzer, half poodle). The pups appear wrapped in towels, wearing sunglasses, and — because even the Emhoff dogs are cooler than you — posing for artsy black-and-white photoshoots.

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A post shared by @ coleemhoff on

The dogs even have their own Instagram account, where you can see them abusing their Donald Trump-shaped dog toys.

This blended family is “almost too functional.”

Writing in “Elle” about her whirlwind courtship with Doug, Kamala said she immediately hit it off with his first wife, film producer Kerstin Emhoff. “She and I became a duo of cheerleaders in the bleachers at Ella’s swim meets and basketball games, often to Ella’s embarrassment,” Harris said.

And it seems like Kerstin returns the sentiment. Besides posing with Harris at family events like Cole’s college graduation, Kerstin boosted the senator during her candidacy for president and kvelled when Biden tapped her to join his ticket. In the days since, she’s used Instagram to call out the racist and misogynistic attacks Harris has already faced as a vice-presidential candidate.

Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @katz_conn.


Irene Katz Connelly

Irene Katz Connelly

Irene Katz Connelly is a staff writer at the Forward. You can contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @katz_conn.

What Instagram tells us about Kamala Harris’s family

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