Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced on Aug. 11 that California Sen. Kamala Devi Harris, the first South Asian American and the second African American woman to serve as a U.S. senator, will be his running mate for the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Harris is now the first Black woman, the first South Asian American woman and the first graduate of a Historically Black College or University to join a major party’s presidential ticket.
For many people of South Asian descent, Harris’s nomination has been met with celebration and excitement. In particular, this monumental decision has led some South Asians to feel being seen and represented for the first time.
While communities of color, in general, may share enthusiasm about her nomination, it is imperative that we critically assess her views throughout her political career, create a framework on how to discuss Harris’s nomination and consider the much larger question: “How does Harris’s nomination influence the ongoing uprising against systemic racism?”
Harris’s actions as a prosecutor demonstrated her dedication to the punishment bureaucracy and the prison-industrial complex. As a district attorney in San Francisco, Harris pushed for legislation that supported state-sponsored kidnappings and imprisonment of poor Black parents whose children were deemed truant.
In 2014, she argued against the early release of prisoners, because many of them held prison jobs and the prisons would lose an “important labor pool.” (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 14, 2014) Most notably, she has exerted efforts to uphold wrongful convictions and keep innocent people confined to human cages. (New York Times, Jan. 17, 2019)
Like fellow punishment bureaucrat Joe Biden, Harris’s “tough-on-crime” stance strengthened her political capital and helped her secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president.
If Harris’s actions have created so much harm in communities of color, why do we have to be careful and thoughtful when discussing her nomination? The answer lies in her identity and position in society.
National identity and gender
Harris — the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother — comes from a migrant background. Therefore her nomination is viewed as an oppositional stance to toxic, anti-im/migrant policies proposed during the Trump administration and his campaign for reelection. This, in large part, is true.
One day after Biden announced Harris’s nomination, Newsweek published an op-ed arguing that she does not meet the citizenship requirement necessary to serve as vice president. (Aug. 12)
Although Trump used the same anti-immigrant discourse during Obama’s presidential campaign, Harris’s position as a woman of color means that she also has to deal with gender-based derogatory rhetoric. Indeed, Trump has already called Harris “nasty,” a “madwoman” and “angry.” (U.S. News, Aug. 14)
As the election proceeds, Harris will face racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric, similar to what First Lady Michelle Obama and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., have experienced. Therefore, it is important that we do not reproduce toxic rhetoric spewed toward Black women or any woman of color. Moreover, Harris’s identity as an Indian American adds complexity in discussing her nomination.
While many South Asians have displayed support for Sen. Harris, unhealed generational wounds stemming from British imperialism and the Partition of India in 1947 persist in the subcontinent and for the descendants of colonized people.
While gathering sources for this article, I came across a picture of Biden and Harris accompanied by dehumanizing Facebook comments attacking Harris’s assumed caste.
One person wrote that “[Harris] is a Brahman who considers themselves top class [sic] of India, Muslims to them are lower than lower class,” and claimed the person responsible for the post was trying to replace Trump with someone equally as hateful.
Another person on Facebook referred to the people in the photo as “Biden and his B–ch.” As South Asians, we must keep in mind that anti-Black racism is very much present in our communities. Moreover, some of our community members still find it perfectly acceptable to throw horrendous comments at those who do not share our religious, ethnic or national identity.
Instead of using Harris’s nomination to reestablish tension and hostility that emerged during British imperialism, South Asians should focus on addressing racism and xenophobia present in our community, especially during the ongoing uprising to end white supremacist violence against all communities of color.
Kamala Harris’s nomination is full of contradictions. However, everyone must keep in mind that Harris is a woman of color and deserves safety and protection. Moreover, we must consider what her nomination means in the context of the current uprising. Did voting someone into office sway the Supreme Court to maintain protections for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients or extend employment safeguards to LGBTQ2S+ plus workers?
No, the people’s efforts in the streets put pressure on the court to rule in the people’s favor. Voting for either the Democratic or the Republican party will not bring about liberation to our class. We know that revolutionary change will not come from those who maintain the current system in place.
Instead, our collective vision, work and commitment to the working-class struggle are our tools to dismantle the oppressor’s power. Our focus must remain on building class consciousness to build a workers’ world.
Tania Siddiqi is a Muslim womxn of South Asian descent. Her parents migrated from Pakistan to the U.S. Her grandparents on both her mother’s and father’s side migrated from India to Pakistan during the Partition of India in 1947.
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