It is probably normal, as “normal” as things can be these days, for voters to be curious about how they relate to or identify with political figures; what values they share; what they have in common as human beings in addition to policy, politics or party affiliation.
In the “what they have in common” category would fall ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, religion, etc. In other words, what many would call “Identity Politics.”
Since Joe Biden picked Kamala* Harris as his vice-presidential candidate, so much has been said and written about Harris in that vein that it should fill the hearts of “identity politics fans” everywhere with bliss.
With a Jamaican father and a mother from India, Harris has been called a Black woman, a Black American, an African American, an Indian-American, an Asian-American, a woman of color, a woman of Jamaican-Indian descent, a woman of Afro-Indian descent, a woman of Tamil and African ancestry who identifies as Black and, how about, an “Indo-Jamaican posing as an African American.”
Referring to the historic significance of her nomination for vice president on a major party’s presidential ticket, one reads:
• The first Black woman.
• The first woman of color.
• The first Asian-American.
• The first daughter of immigrants.
• The first woman of Jamaican-Indian descent.
• The first Asian-American and African American woman.
What does Kamala Harris herself have to say about her racial identity?
During a February 2019 interview on “The Breakfast Club” radio show, Harris said firmly:
I’m black, and I’m proud of being black. I was born black. I will die black…I’m not going to make excuses for anybody because they don’t understand…I’m not going to spend my time trying to educate people about who black people are…
In her heart, Harris calls herself simply “an American.”
Ironically, Harris’ detractors — the same ones who would use her “blackness” against her — are now cynically questioning and obsessed with the “legitimacy of her blackness.”
While in the past, the “one-drop rule” was sufficient for someone with any African black ancestry to be considered Black, it is weirdly interesting to see how some conservatives are now intent on “changing the rules” and say that Harris does not have sufficient Black blood to be “truly Black.”
Recently, conservative radio host Mark Levin kicked off one of his his Tv shows by ranting about Kamala Harris’ ethnicity:
Kamala Harris is not an African American, she is Indian and Jamaican…India is out there near China…her ancestry does not go back to American slavery…I keep hearing people say she would be the first African American vice president. No, if she is elected, God forbid, or nominated, then elected, she is still not the first African American vice president…
Not to be outdone, right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza tweeted:
The ‘first Black woman’ hoopla is based on the idea that finally a female descendant of slaves can make it all the way to the White House. The problem is that Kamala Harris is descended from one of Jamaica’s largest slaveowners. This exposes the whole morality tale as a farce!
And if that was not enough, we now see “Birtherism 2.0” raising its ugly head again, claiming Harris is not a natural-born citizen, promulgated by right-wing neo-birther editorials and social media posts and dog-whistled by Trump and his cronies, along with many other bizarre and cruel falsehoods and conspiracy theories, mainly about her heritage, “scraping the raw edges of America’s divisions over race, gender and national origin.”
How about her gender?
I will merely quote Karen Green, chair of the Florida Democratic Party’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, who says: “She’s a universal woman of our modern times. She serves as a woman who refutes everything Trump stands for…”
There is another “first” that drives the right insane. When Harris and Biden are elected, Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, will become the first-ever “second gentleman” and first-ever Jewish spouse of a vice president or president.
Which finally brings me back to the title of this piece, the “Jewishness” of Kamala Harris.
Simply, Harris has a great deal of close connections with and respect for the Jewish religion and Jews (“she married one”), for the Jewish community and for the State of Israel. The latter proven time and time again throughout her political career, notwithstanding Trump, his campaign and the Republican Jewish Committee seeking to paint Harris as a “radical leftist.”
Biden’s announcement that he had chosen Harris as his running mate drew swift praise from Jewish Democratic advocacy groups. Read more about Harris’ Israel policies in the Times of Israel’s “In Harris, Biden chooses a traditionally pro-Israel Dem as his veep candidate.”
At Haaretz, Chemi Shalev says Biden’s decision is “logical, reasonable, calculated and widely expected,” calling it “a milestone for America, good for Biden and comforting for Jews.”
In a lighter vein, Ron Kampeas describes “Five Jewish things to know about U.S. vice president candidate Kamala Harris.”
Among some of Harris’ “Jewish nuggets”:
“She smashed a glass at her wedding,” referring to her marriage to Douglas Emhoff.
“She did the blue box thing,” referring to Harris collecting donations to plant trees in Israel.
“Her big sisters are Jewish,” recalling Barbara Boxer’s and Dianne Feinstein’s — both Jewish — endorsements during her 2016 senatorial race.
Finally, Emhoff’s children from his first marriage affectionately call Harris “Momala,” a nickname similar to the Yiddish “Mamaleh,” which means “little mama” and also happens to be Harris’s official Twitter account name. Harris is also said to have a close relationship with Emhoff’s first wife and a “warm relationship” with her Jewish parents-in-law. The friendly, close relationship is reflected in a hilarious, good-natured imitation Harris did in 2019 of her mother-in-law, Barbara Emhoff, about which the Jewish press raved and Kveller wrote: “Kamala Harris’ impression of her Jewish mother-in-law is worthy of an Oscar.”
Now, that ought to count for something!
As to Harris’ own religion, while growing up Harris attended a Black Baptist Church and a Hindu Temple. She now considers herself a Black Baptist.
Yonat Shimron at the Salt Lake Tribune puts it perfectly: “Few, if any, vice presidential candidates have had as much exposure to the world’s religions as Kamala Harris…”
As a Dutch-Latino person of “mixed” background, culture, ethnicity and nationality, with Jewish heritage and having been exposed to several religions, I certainly identify with Kamala Harris and know that millions of Americans do likewise.
If that is called “identity politics, then so be it. In my opinion, it represents a new form of identity politics, one that is color blind, truly gender neutral, multi-cultural, all-inclusive. A “politics” that defies stereotyping and, finally, in theory and in practice, recognizes the melting pot that truly is America.
Once again, Yonat Shimron says it best: “Harris’ ethnic, racial and cultural biography represents a slice of the U.S. population that is becoming ascendant but that has never been represented in the nation’s second-highest office.”
* Harris’ first name, Kamala – the pronunciation of which her right-wing detractors perhaps intentionally mangle — means “lotus flower” in Sanskrit and “is a symbol of significance in Indian culture,” writes Harris in the preface to her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold.” “A lotus grows underwater, its flower rising above the surface while its roots are planted firmly in the river bottom,” Harris adds.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.