Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States of America on January 20th. The same day, Kamala Harris became the 49th Vice President of United States of America. In doing so, she created history by being the first ever woman to become a US Vice President. She also created history by being the first Person of Color to be selected to the second highest office in the US. You must be wondering why I did not refer to Kamala Harris as an Indian American. Before I address that, let us understand who a Person of Color is. In the US and rest of Anglosphere, Person of Color is an accepted and respectful way of describing someone who is not White or Caucasian. Now let us get to why I call Kamala Harris a person of color, instead of Indian American.
After keeping the American public guessing for almost a year, Joe Biden finally, on 11th August 2020, invited Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate for the US Presidential election. While her name had been floating around for months as one of Biden’s top five choices, she was relatively unknown to most people within and outside the US until that day. Soon after the announcement, there were several articles, and opinions in the US media about her bi-racial background, the cases she handled in her law career, and her accomplishments as a US Senator since 2017. Other than the occasional op-eds and media rantings about whether she was really for the Black people (based on her prosecutorial record as a District Attorney and Attorney General), the American media remained focused on Joe Biden and Trump. Her name came up again in the news when Biden won the presidency in November, and last week, when she was sworn in as the VP.
This is a far cry from what has been happening in the Indian news and social media since her name was announced as the VP candidate. It has been fascinating to watch sections of Indian media racing to connect the dots of Kamala Harris’s Indian background. Not a day has gone by in the past five months, when I did not see an article about her mother, her ancestral village in Tamil Nadu, how she speaks fluent Tamil, and her love for Indian food, especially Idli. Just this morning, I saw a famous Indian chef cooking Puliyodarai to celebrate the US VP’s south Indian roots. When Kamala Harris uttered the word “My Chittis” (a Tamil word for maternal aunts), during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in August, the Indian media went into a frenzy. One news anchor even went as far as proclaiming that Kamala Harris was creating history for India on global stage by using an Indian word in her speech. My well-meaning friends also started sharing video clippings of her speech on WhatsApp. After watching all this, anyone not in tune with the realities of American politics, would be convinced that Kamala Harris was surely going to come up on stage one of these days, waving the Tiranga!
The facts, as usual, are starkly different. A simple online search would provide sufficient information about her life, both personal and professional. One would learn that she went to Howard University, a historic African American college, not Harvard University, as promoted by some Indian news sites. In that same speech where she used the word Chitti, she also said, “My mother instilled in my sister Maya and me, the values that will chart the course of our lives. She raised us to be proud, strong, Black (African American) women, and to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.” She then went on to describe her mother, as a hard-working immigrant single parent, who spent her time providing for her daughters, helping them with school, and getting them to their church choir practice.
This was a brilliant strategy if you ask me, and kudos to her speech writer and staff! Joe Biden had already secured the votes of progressive women, the day he nominated Kamala Harris as his running mate. Now, with that speech, she had also endeared herself to millions of Blacks, Evangelical Christians, and those Indian Americans who are US citizens, and can vote. The first three groups are well organized, and extremely important to win over, if a candidate wants to be the President. Winning over the Indian American voters who would lap up anything “Desi“, was just an icing on the cake. This last group does not really change the election outcome, but it does provide a steady source of individual and business donations towards election funds. The tried and tested principle of employing Sam, Daam, Dand, Bhed is applicable to Rajneeti everywhere!
I am sure Kamala Harris loves her Indian heritage, as much as she loves her Black heritage. I have also no doubt that she speaks some Tamil. Like millions of Americans, she also loves Indian food. None of those things, however, matter to people in India, nor should they. The US foreign policy, which includes India, will be what Joe Biden chooses to adopt, and if the early indicators are accurate, it will be like what his old boss Barack Obama adopted. China and Russia, not India, will influence that policy. Depending on the direction the wind blows, India, Africa and middle east will have roles to play in the grand scheme of things. Make no mistake, her Tamil speaking skills, and love for Indian food aside, Kamala Harris will always do what is in the best interest of the United States of America. The Indian media should take a page from her book, and devote its precious time to doing what is best for India.
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One thought on “Why Indian Media Should Stop Obsessing Over Kamala Harris’s Indian Roots”
Another great article by Shashi Nair!