Why Is It Not the Least Bit Surprising That Everyone Ignores Kamala Harris’ Multiculturalism?

While I think Harris’ biracial background has been well covered, found this commentary of interest given that the writer found it under-covered along with the implications for others with mixed identities:

On Tuesday, Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States, announced he had chosen Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. The excitement was swift. The backlash was even swifter. President Trump wasted little time calling Harris “nasty” and “disrespectful”—the man is nothing if not predictable. As was the Democratic talking heads’ praise of Biden for picking Kamala as a means of “securing the Black vote,”as if Black people are a monolith and Biden didn’t tell Charlamagne tha God on The Breakfast Club, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” Many also claimed Harris’ potential vice presidency will change “the way we view and treat women in politics forever,” as if a number of Democrats didn’t consider Harris “too ambitious” to be Biden’s running mate.

But amid the sexist, racist backlash and Democratic congratulator back-slapping, history was made. Not only was Harris the first African American and first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General and the second Black woman to become a sitting U.S. senator, she is now the first Black woman to join a major party ticket (civil rights activist Charlotta Bass became the first Black woman to ever run for office as vice president in 1952, when she joined the Progressive Party ticket). If Biden is elected president, Harris will become the first African American and first woman to hold the office of the vice presidency.

She’ll also become the first South-Asian American to become vice president. Just as she is the first South-Asian American to join a major party ticket, just like she was the first South-Asian American to join the Senate. But Harris’ multiculturalism and South Asian identity is often overlooked by a society that continues to rely on a binary way of thinking. Like former President Barack Obama, Harris’ multiculturalism is, most often, only acknowledged in a racist attempt to invalidate her Blackness. Obama isn’t really Black, Rush Limbaugh argued. He is “half white.” Harris isn’t reallyAfrican American, right-wing talking heads say. She is Jamaican. She is “half” South-Asian. She is “half” Black. She is a half, they say. She is not whole.

For those of us who are bi- or multiracial, watching Harris’ entire identity be whittled away to “this” or “that” is as painful as it is familiar. As a Puerto Rican and Norwegian woman who grew up in Eagle River, Alaska, and now lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York, I know what it’s like for people to assume the entirety of your identity based on how you look. I know how your identity can be white-washed, invalidated, categorized, and in Harris’ case, used to devalue who you are and the community you represent. As Americans, we often lack the ability to establish and maintain nuanced conversations about race and heritage, ethnicity and culture. And in this country, bi- or multiracial people are often described in halves—“half black,” “half white,” “half Puerto Rican,” “half Asian”—as if the rich multiplicities that embody our identity do not make us whole but fractured. It is no wonder that multiracial people often feel both within and without—for me, not Puerto Rican enough but not white enough either.

But to acknowledge Harris’ Black and South Asian identities simultaneously is to give bi- and multiracial kids who feel like they have to be all of one thing or risk being seen as nothing at all a chance to be reminded of their inherent value—that we are not fragments of our ancestries but a dream realized by those who live in a country that didn’t legalize biracial marriage until 1967.

All of Harris’ firsts have given and continue to give us an opportunity to see ourselves not as a collection of halves or a myriad of contradictions or parts to be dissected and criticized and used against us when we ascent to positions of power but as whole people worthy of respect, a seat at the table, and if given the opportunity, a shot at the vice presidency of the United States.

Source: Why Is It Not the Least Bit Surprising That Everyone Ignores Kamala Harris’ Multiculturalism?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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