Kamala Harris, a white woman who identifies as a Black woman.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, USA—Kamala Harris has risen rapidly through the ranks of the Democratic Party and has fast become its front-runner of sorts leading up to electing the candidate for president for 2020. If Kamala Harris must win the nomination for the DNC and become successful against President Trump in the general elections, Kamala Harris must first grab fully, the African American vote, which has become the cornerstone of the Democratic Party’s endeavors.

But how to grab that African American vote has become a bone of contention in public view. To this point Kamala Harris claims she is Black. Many prominent Black thought-leaders claim that she is not. Kamala is the daughter of an Indian (Tamil) mother, and a multi-racial father (who hails from a family in Jamaica that boasts of its Irish Plantation great grandfathers). The basis of Kamala’s heritage as a Black woman stems, obviously, through this storied, yet deeply troubling, multi-racial father. Many Caucasian American news outlets, including the most prominent ones like CNN (the Caucasian News Network), charge Blacks who have openly expressed disgust at Kamala’s claim as a Black woman, essentialists, or more painfully, as Blacks who practice reverse-racism.

What is lost in the debate about Kamala’s blackness or lack thereof, which many Black scholars have indirectly alluded to, is white/Caucasian essentialism itself. What is perhaps also lost is Indian essentialism as well. Why is Kamala Harris not an Indian (or Asian) American? How is Kamara Harris not a Caucasian (or Irish) American? What makes Kamala Harris more an African American than a Caucasian American? What is lost in the debate about Kamala’s blackness is the question of the essentialism of every other ethnic, or racial group in America. In essence, when Black people question Kamala’s blackness they also invariably question the prevailing paradigm that anyone in America with just a tint of West African blood should and must be regarded as Black instead of the other. That is not black essentialism. That is white essentialism. That is Indian essentialism.

Hence the charge of “essentializing blackness” when it comes to Kamara Harris, when carefully scrutinized, rests rather squarely on the shoulders of white supremacists at CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, who indulge in the continued and parochial argumentation that assumes freely that there’s no such thing as white/Caucasian essentialism. The question of Kamala Harris’ blackness is a deeply white essentialist one rather than not.

What is troubling even more than the fact that Kamala has more Indian or white ancestry (and to which both races refuse her identification as such) than she has West African ancestry, is the continued entrenchment of the central tenet of the doctrine of white supremacism. To claim that Kamala is Black and not a white woman, for instance, is to enhance the paralogism in public discourse that to be white is to be pure. To say that Kamala is not an Indian American woman also harbors a troubling argument that to be Indian, somehow, is to be also pure. Furthermore, this white essentialism enhances the biologically racist hypothesis, especially pervasive in European textbooks, that labels ‘blackness’ as a primordial form of humanity which evolves into the most advanced/evolved form of humanity that is whiteness. To be ½ Black is to be Black; to be 1/16 Black is to be Black; to be 1/64 Black is to be Black and so on unless someone is one hundred percent Caucasian then that person is regarded as white. This progression into whiteness is more a theory stooped in an imagined evolutionary trend, which is also known as white supremacism.

The charge of essentialism then lies on the lips of media outlets that hold the singular claim that Kamala Harris is African American; and not European American; and not even an Indian American. And so if such a thing exists as European, as Caucasian, as Indian, as African, as Black, and so on, why is it baffling to others that Blacks themselves can also willfully define for themselves what it means to be Black? Is essentialism a reserve for whites and Indians in America alone? In Kamala Harris’ case it seems that essentialism is truly a reserve for white Americans, unless of course the person in question is a half Haitian, half Japanese athlete who has won two Grand Slams back-to-back. How is Kamala Harris African American, yet Naomi Osaka is truly Japanese (as portrayed by the same media as if she was born through Immaculate Conception)? How is Osaka not an African-Japanese woman?

That point is lost on the white supremacist media in the United States that masquerades daily as truth-tellers. The point is not that Black people, who will not accept Kamala Harris as an African American woman, indulge in a “reverse-racism,” if that is even a thing. It’s not. Far from it. What is at stake is the battle to unshackle white essentialism (that marches on pointing fingers at others) that is perched at the foundations of American institutions. Kamala Harris should be able to gallivant the outskirts of Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania, in redneck country, and speak freely about her heritage as an Irish American in the same way that her fathers have done in Jamaica for a century. The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and the Huffington Post should then question any rednecks who challenge Kamala’s “proud” Irish plantation masters. But I doubt that would ever happen in American politics, for the very reason that I have underlined: White Essentialism, and with it, white supremacism—an illogical concoction of falsehood carefully fabricated in early European Academia to enhance the European Miracle.

What remains in America is a battle of unshackling identities and correcting historical paralogisms. Caucasians can remain Caucasians; Indians can remain Indians, and so must African Americans. That is not to say people don’t mix. They do. But the people reserve the right to identify who is a part of their society as much as the United States reserves the right to identify who is American or not.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Succinct as always.

    The funny part is that while she and her people are clamoring for black identity, cortez from the same platform is arguing albeit mockingly that she cortez cannot be identified as black because some grandmother down the line was black.

    But let’s give her few years and let’s see if she wouldn’t want what she’s rejecting really bad. It only become fashionable to be black when they need political vote. They have no shame

  2. Let’s keep on dividing ourselves into even tinier subgroups and fighting each other on the basis of very emotional or puritanical considerations. It will be easier for them to crush us…Who will be the ultimate winners? It won’t be any of the small tiny shade based groups, origin based groups, or ancestry based groups…

    • Lama Rana
      I wonder how many people know that Malcolm X’s mother was an immigrant from Grenada born from a Scottish father and black mother… This Scottish man apparently raped this lady when she was only 11 and from that she gave birth to Malcolm’s mother who later moved to Canada and then eventually moved to the US where Malcolm was born… So I wonder what’s the point of bringing some black person supposed Irish or European ancestry. How many of the slaves ancestors were raped by these bastards?…. A little context is good sometimes….

    • Very fair point once more.

      But I don’t think the OP was trying to subdivide black folk with a view to further weaken us. I think the intent was to point out, at the risk of stating what’s already known and obvious, the blatant hypocrisy, racism and what appears to be the inherent dislike to identify as one of theirs anything that has black blood in it, by the Caucasian.

      From what I understood of the post, he is basically just calling out the purist attitudes of the people of the paler hue, and, in the example of the Afro-Japanese tennis lady, relegate the African-ness, wherever and whenever they can, in the person on the subject of some tremendous achievement.

      I could be wrong and rambling, tho.

    • Lama Rana
      “Yes Black people should question a person’s blackness”. Why if not for dividing us. We should question someone’s commitment to black causes not their blackness. We have had several bad african presidents who are clearly working in the interest of former colonial powers and against their own people. However that does not take away the fact that they are africans…

    • In the African context, yes, a question of someone’s race wouldn’t even feature in our conversations, cuz, well, we’re virtually homogenous.

      But in the American context, the question of race will always feature when those involved are people of color.

    • … especially, I suppose I should add, when the person of color begins to create a narrative around a particular group of people, in this case black people, to curry favors and votes.

  3. The toxic issue of race ought to have faded into the inglorious annals of world history as discredited and unscientific ever since Charles Darwin postulated that all modern humans are just one race, and genetic analyses have incontrovertibly confirmed his observations. In an increasingly globalized world, humans of any complexion and geographical roots have to desist from being overly obsessed by these aspects of a person’s biography. It’s this unnecessary division which recently might have played a role in six police officers, without provocation, emptying their bullets into a black American rapper who was peacefully napping in a car with his gun openly on display, in a country where ALL “racial” groups supposedly can legally own a gun.

    • To add a bit to your comment, let me advise that when we speak of the toxicity about race we must name the perpetrators and the victims. I understand that this can be difficult, but to tell the truth fully is to be honest. Europeans turned race into a toxic issue. Africans didn’t need Darwin to accept all other races as human. It is the Europeans who needed Darwin, and yet still refused it, and still yet still refuse it. Racism is a white people problem. Not a black one. If white people stopped being racist, if they stopped practicing white supremacism today, racism will end yesterday! But alas, they won’t, the wages of racism/white supremacism are real. You need only take a look at the sheer wealth of tiny Norway compared to Ghana. Norwegians are not smarter than Ghanaians. Far from it. But Norway is a beneficiary of the wages of whiteness. Norwegians are just as corrupt as Ghanaians (I don’t care what the UN assumes!). This is real, not imagined. In the US white people are beneficiaries of the wages of white supremacism. It is intoxicating for them and to become sober is probably a difficult task for them. The choice is however still theirs, to stop the violence they daily unleash on Blacks and on Africa through their geopolitical machinations.

  4. Mr. Barry Abdoulaye, in clarifying your earlier comment on Lama Rana, the idea that my essay embarks on “dividing ourselves into even tinier subgroups and fighting each other on the basis of very emotional or puritanical considerations,” presupposes that there exist such a thing as “us.” What is “us?” That is the question. From here you also allude to some essentializing of “blackness,” if by “us” you are not referring generally to the human race. If there’s such a thing as “us,” how do you define it?

    Now let us leave the definition of what is black aside for a second. What has transpired in the USA since slavery and in Africa since colonial occupation is a definition of blackness or even Africanness that terrorists have imposed on Blacks. I for instance, have had no input in defining what I think I am. Have I? Have you? Has you father defined blackness? I doubt it. What then is the working definition of blackness. Here it is: When whites in the USA claim that a person of color (mixed raced individual) cannot be white, what they engage in is the essentialism of white purity. Why is Kamala not both Asian and White American? Why is she Black and not the others.

    My point is, and before we even got to the point of defining blackness, my point is that whites, Indians, Asians, and still others have, and continue to engage in essentializing their own racial categorization while they point the finger at Blacks for attempting to launch what they would consider a working definition of themselves. To ask Kamala about why she would claim blackness and not Asianness, or whiteness, is an apt argumentation to get to the bottom of the ways in which white supremacist thinking (essentializing whiteness) continues to be pervasive in all aspects of political thought.

    • My friend, speak for yourself. Africans do not reject anyone but you belong to some ethnic group that I cannot just join at will.

  5. The very idea that it is offensive to the Native American community for Lizzy Warren to claim any link to Native American ancestry, yet Kamala Harris can get up every mourning and Dolezzal her blackness in front of Black people during an election season (even if just for the season) without the care of offending Blacks goes to show the level of Kamala’s own insensitivity towwards people of African descent in America. It goes to show that the powers that be in the USA have assured Kamala that no matter what, so long as she remains on message minstrelling as a black woman, they will keep her in the race for president. The gross disrespect for African Americans in America is grotesque to say the least.

  6. And the really offensive part is that to show that she is Black she recounts how she used to listen to Tupac and Biggie back in her college days ( although they weren’t on the rap scene by then) and smoke weed. So to be Black is to nod your head to rap music and smoke weed?

    • Her offensive act is riding on one leg: the goodwill of blacks. In the end she will be rejected as the fraud she really is.

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