Posted on August 22, 2020 at 10:21 pm

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The True Identity of Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris: Making history

Sen. Kamala Harris has made history by becoming the first South Asian and first Black woman on a presidential ticket in the US. She could be the first step in reversing the patriarchy flourishing in American presidential politics. And much akin to an Indian family celebrating their NRI son’s promotion in the US, the Indian community didn’t hesitate to rally around Harris and claim her as their own. But before people go further on to analyze trivial details about Harris such as her caste, we must remember that Harris is biracial. Harris is also Black. And that doesn’t exactly make for comfortable conversation in the Indian community.

Kamala Harris is a also a Black woman. Let’s talk about that.

Kamala Harris' Parents
Kamala Harris’ Parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris. They emigrated from India and Jamaica respectively to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley, where they met.

Little Kamala Harris watched from her stroller as her parents marched with thousands of others for Civil Rights in the 60s. As she grew up, her mother instilled the importance of family and community in Kamala and her sister, Maya. Her mother exposed them to their Black roots to the best of her ability, knowing she had 2 Black girls at hand. Harris went on to attend a historically Black college. A longtime friend of Kamala Harris even mentioned that he had not known Harris was of Indian descent until after 15 years of knowing her.

Throughout her career in law as a district attorney, attorney general, and finally senator, Harris’ Indian background was often downplayed. This is not surprising though; throughout America’s history, Black people’s experiences and lives have been more central to American politics than Indians’ ever have, and Kamala Harris may have been well aware of that. Harris has never really capitalized or emphasized on her racial background, but America had a need to put her in a singular, neat box and label it. And so while Harris might have an Indian name and some amount of regard for her Indian heritage, in the eyes of American media, she’s a Black woman.

The relationship between South-Asian and Black communities:

Anti-Blackness and colorism are prevalent in Indian society. Indian films barely have any dark skinned women, while parents clamor for fair brides for their sons. So it’s not surprising when this hatred for darkness often extends to the Black community. I can’t name many Indian parents I know of that would be comfortable with their children marrying Black people. Of course, the wedge between Black and Asian communities is not our own fault alone.

Post 1950s, America heavily perpetuated the “Model Minority” myth. Educated Asian Americans came in droves to find work. They quickly acquired wealth, especially during the IT revolution of the 90s. They often completed professional/graduate degrees and built comfortable lives for themselves. But this was primarily enabled by the selective recruitment of educated Asians to work in the US. It’s not because of some myth that Asian-Americans are inherently more hard-working and intelligent people. This myth acted as a pillar for White supremacy. It was used to gaslight Black Americans into believing that their failure to thrive in society was a result of their inherent intellectual inferiority, and not of systemic racism and slavery. White people used the myth to drive a wedge between our two communities- a scar that persists till date.

Harris’ identity:

It’s natural that Kamala Harris could come off as intimidating and strange to America. She is, after all, a product of the two cultures that America has tried to segregate for so long. I imagine that as a biracial woman, Harris has probably been called “not Black enough” and “not Indian enough”. Harris had to navigate the varying experiences of being Asian and Black, on top of being a woman in America. I recently had an argument with a man online who said “Sorry Indians, but this [Kamala Harris’ nomination for VP] one’s for the Black people.” He went on to argue that Kamala Harris wasn’t Indian because “I don’t see a dot on her forehead”. According to him, she was Black because she looked Black and went to a HBCU.

However people and the media want to play it, the fact is that Harris is a biracial woman. She wore sarees while visiting her grandparents in India, and rushed to choir practice at her Black church in America. She calls her aunt chiththi, and joined a sorority for Black women in college. Harris knows of and embraces her multiple backgrounds, and is confident of her identity. No one has the authority to validate her experiences.

So before Trump produces a new birther conspiracy about Kamala Harris, we should clarify her identity, in her own words: “I’m a proud American”.

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