This newsletter, WiFP newsletter coordinator Riza Kumar discusses U.S. Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, and the intersections between race and identity for women in politics.
Senator Kamala Harris announced her 2020 candidacy for U.S. president last month. As the first Indian American and black female candidate, she leads the way in opening and normalising the political frontier to candidates from multi-hyphenate identities. Accordingly, Harris has been a heavyweight on the Californian political landscape for quite a while and as a native San Franciscan I have followed her career for over a decade. Since I identify as a biracial American (Indian and Filipino), I was ecstatic at the news of Harris’ candidacy. However, the erasure of her Indian-American identity has been somewhat disconcerting for me. Aside from Indian news outlets, there have been minimal to no references to her Indian background. While there have been Indian politicians in the public eye, they have usually been Republican--Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley to name two prominent examples--which is why it is refreshing to have a Democratic candidate like Harris since over 65% of Indian Americans identify as democrats or lean towards democrats.
Whether or not it may be intentional by the press to evade the complexity of her identity, I do think that there should be more consideration in the fact that America is a melting pot that is no longer racially homogeneous. According to Pew Research Center, more and more Americans identify as multiracial and the figures continue to grow every year. With representatives who reflect this diversity on socioeconomic, political, and cultural fronts, it is hoped that necessary reforms will be undertaken to guarantee greater rights and freedoms of the American public.
However, it really should not matter if she identifies more with being black or Indian. Rather, the electorate should prioritise how her policies will mobilise necessary change throughout an increasingly partisan American reality. Celebrating the diversity of the American experience allows for an intersectional political approach that remedies infrastructural discrepancies and outdated social practices that have regularly been relegated to the sidelines by the demographics that have historically dominated political institutions. Rather than tethering candidates to one specific identity, it is important that they are given the space to define themselves and how they can best serve the country to their best abilities.