In a world that is increasingly polarized by race, it’s easy to forget about us. The mixed kids. The people in that racial grey area where people stare at you a little longer because they can’t quite tell what you are. We are the racially ambiguous people in your TV commercials and shutter stock photos. We are the people who have never quite fit into the world’s racial boxes.
Biracial-ness has often been overlooked. People go straight to looking for diversity in people whom they can label. People whose race is easily identifiable without asking questions. However, Kamala Harris is changing the narrative.
When I was little, I would watch my grandmother excitedly point to the TV and say, “ve bhaarateey hain!” (they’re Indian) anytime someone with brown skin came on screen. On January 20th, she didn’t. Because for two years she got to see someone who looked like her, fight for her, and win.
For me, the experience was a little different than my grandmother’s. Kamala Harris and I have something different in common. We both have spent our entire lives defending the validity of our identity. The disconnect between her identity as a Black woman and her position as a daughter of Asia beautifully encapsulates the experience of many biracial Americans in a society that doesn’t fully understand the nuance of race. Immediately after Harris entered the grand political scene, the right-wing was quick to conclude that she was insufficiently Black.
In June of 2019, alt-right activist Ali Alexander tweeted, “Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamacian.”
Later, Donald Trump Jr. stated in a now-deleted tweet, “Is this true? Wow,” furthering the notion that Kamala is not Black enough.
As the daughter of a white mother and Indian father, I can easily say nothing is more delegitimizing for someone already struggling with their identity than people questioning what you are.
This is why watching Harris be proudly herself and tell people to properly pronounce her name offers the perfect opportunity to expand our thinking on race and identity. Many immigrant children know what it’s like to sit at their desk on the first day of school and listen to the teacher colonize their name. Many also know what it’s like to just go with it. It’s the day the Samukthas of the world became “Sam” and the Jingzhous became “Jing”. But Kamala Harris refused to accept this. In May of 2016, #KidsforKamala launched an impressive video campaign proving that if they could pronounce it correctly, you can too.
Being able to see Kamala Harris present herself the way she wants to be perceived offers a great deal of comfort to biracial Americans who are constantly battling which side of themselves is the most acceptable in which situation. As a young woman in politics, seeing someone who has been able to break through racial binaries and fight for their communities gives me so much hope for my career. Being invited to work for the AAPI coalition in Georgia was such a life-changing moment for me. For the first time, I was publicly recognized as a member of the community. My perspective was appreciated, regardless of the fact that I don’t necessarily look the way most members of the AAPI community do. But that is the beauty of her impact. She has inspired not only voters but organizers and politicos to blur the lines of what true representation looks like.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images