Culture Politics

Why I Find It Difficult To See Myself in Kamala Harris

"I almost feel as if I should be overflowing with joy about the newly-elected VP, and yet I find myself hesitant to celebrate."

The 2020 election has resulted in Kamala Harris becoming the first Black, South Asian, and female vice president in America’s history. While this is a great accomplishment in itself and a definite step forward, I can’t help but feel torn as this does not feel like a win to me.  

As Instagram floods with celebratory posts of Harris’ achievement, I can’t help but feel uneasy for a multitude of reasons. 

First off, as a mixed person of Black and Indian descent and a child of Caribbean immigrants I almost feel as if I should be overflowing with joy about the newly-elected VP and yet I find myself hesitant to celebrate. Harris is a child of an Indian Tamil mother and an Afro-Jamaican father, a mixed identity that almost mirrors my own, an identity known as dougla that still seems to lack representation in Western media and still holds the negative connotations that initially created it outside of the West Indies and amongst the South Asian community. The ethnic identity that Harris and I happen to share fits under its own label, as not specifically one or the other but a unique mixture of both. 

So color me surprised when I happen to see South Asian celebrities like Mindy Kaling captioning her celebratory post with: “Crying and holding my daughter, ‘look baby, she looks like us.’” And creatives like Hanifa Abdul Hameed (@colorsofhoney) designing images of Harris draped in a saree adorned with slogans like: “Vice President Aunty” amongst other praises of finally having a desi in the White House.

It should be a joyous thing to see the South Asian community embrace a mixed Black and Indian woman like Harris with such warm regards but I cannot help but feeling like this “acceptance” is only due to the newfound position of power that Harris has achieved; an acceptance that many like her have never received. Not focused on her policies, beliefs, and even just the other half of her identity, the South Asian community has boiled Kamala Harris down to a “desi aunty” archetype like she was a star of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, claiming and exploiting her image as their own one-dimensional representation of a “strong brown woman” while erasing her identity as a Black woman and a person of dougla identity and the South Asian community’s own complicated (and mostly negative) relationship with mixed people and the Black community itself. Let us not forget that just earlier this year,Duniya Sharma Jayegi” was “Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi,” a blatant sign of the anti-Blackness that still runs through the South Asian community at this very moment, so you can see why ignoring Harris’ Black identity while highlighting her achievement is just a small part of a larger systemic problem within the South Asian community that probably will not change just with Harris’ presence in the White House.

Not focused on her policies, beliefs, and even just the other half of her identity, the South Asian community has boiled Kamala Harris down to a “desi aunty” archetype like she was a star of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, claiming and exploiting her image as their own one-dimensional representation of a “strong brown woman” while erasing her identity as a Black woman and a person of dougla identity and the South Asian community’s own complicated (and mostly negative) relationship with mixed people and the Black community itself.

However, it is just as hard for me to justify fighting for Kamala Harris’ Black identity to get the proper recognition that it deserves when Harris’ relationship with the Black community is just as complex, maybe even more so. Before Kamala Harris made history as the first Black, South Asian, and female vice president in America’s history, she built her career as district attorney of Alameda County in Oakland and as Attorney General of California — both positions that are highly controversial within the Black community. Her career included declining to advocate for legalization of marijuana in California, in which Black people have the highest rate of being arrested (Convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006 once Harris took office in 2004), failing to support body cameras for the police while opposing legislation that would require her office to independently investigate police shootings, and defending the 3 strikes law, in which Black people are incarcerated at a rate 12 times higher than whites, amongst supporting several other policies that work to uphold a system that is unfairly leveled against Black and Brown communities.

Celebrating Harris’ win can become even more confusing when you take into account that for the months since the unfortunate murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the Black community and their allies have taken to the streets to protest the unjust and corrupt American police system. It is hard to justify celebrating Harris’ victory as a Black person, when Harris’ entire career has come at the expense of Black lives by upholding a system that is inherently against them.  

Overall, as a mixed woman of Black and Indian descent, it is hard to celebrate and “see myself” in Kamala Harris as her vice-presidential win is presented as a thinly veiled attempt at progress without any real work toward changing the systemic elements that negatively affect myself, my family, my friends, the Black community, and possibly Harris’ own family, friends, and even herself, sans her government accomplishments.

Amara Davina Ramdhanny (she/her/they/them) is an Afro-St. Lucian and Indo-Grenadian (Black/Indian of Caribbean descent) Brooklyn-based creative, whose work focuses on/is inspired by bright colors and strong women, specifically women of color.