Harris ‘is equally Indian and black’


Kamala Harris   (REUTERS/Jim Bourg).
Kamala Harris (REUTERS/Jim Bourg).

By Amit Roy



WE WERE told by the BBC last week that Kamala Harris has made history as the “first black woman vice-president”.

The BBC’s headline generated a number of provocative tweets: “Why is Harris black, but Meghan Markle is ‘mixed race?’ Confused.”

“She’s as much brown as black.”



“She is half black and half Indi­an, but who cares about the Indian side apparently.”

“She is mixed, not black.”

“She is not ‘African American’.”



“She’s the first woman vice-president. Saying she is the first black woman vice-president sounds like there was another woman before her.”

As the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen once said, who we are is the intersection of several identities. But in America, Kamala has been hijacked by Black Lives Matter (BLM) – and the BBC seems to have gone along with this.

Kamala’s mother, Shyamala Go­palan, who was born in Tamil Nadu, emigrated to America at the age of 19. In 1963, she married a graduate student from Jamaica, Donald J Harris, who is today a Stanford Uni­versity professor emeritus of eco­nomics. The couple were divorced in the early 1970s. Kamala and her younger sister, Maya, were essen­tially brought up by their mother, who died, aged 70, in 2009.



In her post-victory speech, Ka­mala made a point of remembering Shyamala: “Every little girl watch­ing tonight sees that this is a coun­try of possibilities. When she came here from India at the age of 19, she may not have quite imagined this moment. But she believed so deep­ly in America, where a moment like this is possible. And so I’m thinking about her.”

Ahead of the election, prayers were offered for Kamala at a temple in the family’s ancestral village of Thulasendrapuram in Tamil Nadu. The victory of the “daughter of our village” was greeted with firecrack­ers, and as the villagers distributed sweets, one woman wrote: “Con­gratulations Kamala Harris, pride of our village.”

What all this demonstrates is that it is wrong to describe Kamala – her name could not be more Indian – only as “black”.

Since prime minister Narendra Modi invested so much personal capital in a victory for Donald Trump, will US-India relations be affected now that Joe Biden has been projected as the winner?

There may well be initial difficul­ties, but the presence in the US of an estimated four million influen­tial people of Indian origin will en­sure that normal relations between the two strategic partners are estab­lished soon.

Indians, being Indians, will do what they are best at – worshipping the rising sun. Ministers and other senior people in the Indian govern­ment will pretend they had all along been hoping for a Biden win.

The responsibility for resetting the relationship with India after four years of the Modi-Trump axis may be assumed by Kamala, who will happily emphasise her Indian heritage. It is worth watching if idli makes an appearance at White House dinners.