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.