What Kamala Means to Biracial Americans Like Me
Her selection as the vice-presidential nominee offers a welcome opportunity to expand our thinking on race and identity
Last week, as I sat down to dinner in an elegant hillside home in the southern Turkish town of Bodrum, two Indian women roared with approval when they learned that Kamala Harris had been selected as Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate. These proud members of the Indian diaspora reveled in seeing “one of their own” finally selected for a chance at the second-highest elected position in the nation. Of course, headline after headline from that same day celebrated Harris as the first “African American VP candidate.”
This disconnect between Harris’ identity as a Black woman and her status as a daughter of both Asia and Africa illustrates the challenges faced by biracial Americans as they navigate a society that once had a one-drop rule to render those of fractional African descent Black and slaves.
Like Barack Obama, to whom she has been compared, Harris’ family story is far different than that of most African Americans. He was the son of a Kenyan immigrant father and a white mother from Kansas; she is the daughter of a Tamil Brahmin immigrant from India and a Jamaican immigrant scholar. Both were raised primarily by the non-Black sides of their families.
As the son of a Jewish mother and African American father, I’ve repeatedly experienced questions about my Blackness.
Immediately, conservative pundits sought to paint Harris as insufficiently Black. Nothing, after all, is more delegitimizing than questioning the Blackness of someone who’s mixed-race — unless it’s the president questioning whether she was even eligible, because of her immigrant parents, to join the Biden ticket at all (she is).
As the son of a Jewish mother and an African American father, I’ve repeatedly experienced questions about my Blackness. Drake has too — and so has the Duchess of Sussex, who vocally claimed her biracial identity long before she met her Duke. It’s an odd twist to the old one-drop rule: The racist ideology long used to deny the privileges of whiteness is…