Kamala Harris and Arnab Ray
Kamala Harris and Arnab Ray
AFP and Twitter

As Joe Biden announced that Kamala Harris would be his running mate, commentators got excited, pointing out that she would be the first ‘Indian-American, first African-American and first female candidate running on a national party’s presidential ticket.

That would be technically incorrect. For starters, Harris’ father was Jamaican and her mother from Chennai. She was largely raised by her mother after her parents got divorced.

While she has said she has gone to temples, Harris often speaks about attending predominantly Black churches in Oakland and Berkeley.

While married to a Jew, she considers herself a Black Baptist.

A Baptist, for those who don’t know their Christian denominations, refers to members who ‘baptize believers by immersion and that is usually Calvinistic in doctrine, named after John the Baptist.

Harris with Mindy Kaling
Harris with Mindy Kaling

However, when she’s not making masala dosas with Mindy Kaling, Harris prefers to wear her black identity more than her Indian one, even though she was raised by a Hindu mother.

Indian or Black?

Author, blogger and podcaster Arnab Ray, who’s also a keen watcher of both Indian and American politics, notes that she Indian-Americans aren’t a significant voting bloc.

He told The Free Press Journal, that the country of origin doesn’t matter when one is running to be president (or vice-president) of another country.

He said: “Biden is an old-world Democrat, very centre, white, with a long history of being on the wrong side of progressive issues, and there is apprehension that the Democratic progressive base might sit home. Hillary made a mistake with her VP pick: he (Tim Kaine) added nothing to the ticket and was terribly boring.”

He adds: “After the George Floyd incident, the verdict was unanimous. If they wanted the black and the progressive white vote, there had to be a progressive person on the ticket who was also black and a woman. It finally came down to Kamala vs Susan Rice. One main reason why Kamala won is because she is a very good debate candidate because of her prosecutorial background. She just has a bigger fan base than Susan Rice. When you have to go up against Trump, you need someone to add excitement to the ticket. Kamala Harris does.”

He added: “As you can see that she has an Indian background has nothing to do with what makes her such a great VP candidate so why should she even bring that up? Obama never highlighted his Kenyan background, did he? The country of origin isn’t important when you are running to be the president of another country.”

In the past, Harris has spoken about her Indian identity and said: “I am proud to be who I am, I am proud of the influences that my family have had on my life, that my community had on my life, and similarly the influence of my mentors and colleagues and friends. One is not to the exclusion of the other -- I believe that point is at the heart of this matter. We have to stop seeing issues and people through a plate-glass window as though we were one-dimensional. Instead, we have to see that most people exist through a prism and they are a sum of many factors — everyone is that way, and that is just the reality of it.”

Incidentally, Bobby Jindal – the tallest Indian-American in US politics till now who detested the hyphen – would get votes from members of the Indian-American community despite rejecting the tag. One will have to see if Kamala Harris also evokes similar loyalty.

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Free Press Journal