Sunday, August 16, 2020

Perception Is Not Reality. But It's Close.

Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study Shimla Makarand R. Paranjape argues "Kamala Harris is a phenomenon. Her announcement as Biden’s running mate is thus a cause for justified celebration in both our continents."  Therefore, he asks

Why then is Harris so reticent about being Indian and so vocal about being Black? And why is the American press projecting her not so much as a person of mixed Indo-Jamaican descent but much more as a Black woman? For instance, why has she been lauded for being the second Black woman ever to be elected to the senate rather than the first Indian? Is it merely identity fudging or political expediency?

As Paranjape explains, Kamala's parents divorced when she was seven years old and Kamala and her sister were raised by their mother, an Indian-born cancer scientist who had emigrated at age 19 to the USA. Moreover, the Senator's perspective about Jamaicans and marijuana use is not aligned with that of her father, a Jamaican-born economist who taught at Stanford University.

Nonetheless, it should be less surprising that the media emphasizes that Harris is black than that, since her nomination, ti has discovered and lauded her as a nominee of both Jamaican and Indian descent. In the comments with which the Californian is most closely associated with among voters, Harris confronted Biden in a June, 2019 debate with

Okay. So on the issue of race, I couldn’t agree more that this is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully and honestly. I — there is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a co-worker, who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination.

Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn't play with us because she — because we were black. And I will say also that — that, in this campaign, we have also heard — and I'm going to now direct this at Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.

But I also believe, and it’s personal — and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.

And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

Because we were black. Harris did not say "because I was Asian" or "because I was of mixed race." It was because "we were black" because, owing to various factors including appearance, young Kamala was thought of as being black.

It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race. It was not "senators who built their reputations and career on hostility toward Asians" or "on hostility toward immigrants and their children." It was "race" and everyone in the country who watched, read about, or heard of, the debate knew she was referring to blacks. There was no one, including Harris, who thought "Asian" or "Indian" or "immigrant."

This should not be difficult to understand- nor should it be difficult for the media to understand. Kamala Harris through her life probably has been identified as, and usually characterized, as black. For that and other reasons, Harris has mostly identified as black, though she is free to associate herself with any part of her cultural background she wishes.

The great division in American society, however, is white and black. When Ms. Harris was running for the Democratic nomination for President, she was understandably seen as a black candidate, in the same manner as was New Jersey's Cory Booker or as Barack Obama is seen as the first black President. When millions of Americans took to the streets this past spring to protest bias in policing, it was not under the banner of "immigrant lives matter" or "mixed-race lives matter" but "black lives matter." When Joe Biden was considering his running mate, it was widely believed that he would select a black woman and Kamala Harris was thought to be one of the two leading black candidates.

Kamala Harris is entitled while running for Vice-President to embrace her south Asian background, her background as a black American or Caribbean-American, or a little of each (though she is not is an African-American). But individuals such as Paranjape should not be disappointed were Harris seemingly to de-emphasize her south Asian background.  For this is America, usually for the better and sometimes for the worse, and we need to recognize that most of her life in most ways, Kamala Harris has been, well, black.


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