When Sen. Kamala D. Harris was introduced as the keynote speaker at the Pratham USA Gala in 2018, one of the largest education organizations in India, the speaker chided that he wasn’t sure “how to say it” before proudly referring to her as the first senator of Indian-American heritage in the history of the U.S Senate.
On Wednesday night, there was no ambiguity.
She paid homage to the centennial of the 19th Amendment, pointing out that so many of the Black women who helped secure that victory were still prohibited from voting long after its ratification. But they were undeterred. They organized and testified and rallied and marched and fought not just for a vote, but for a seat at the table.
For Black delegates, Harris is a “sister,” one step away from the presidency, in a country where the Black women didn’t get to vote without fear until 1965.
At a time when race is front and center in the nation’s consciousness, Harris, the daughter of a India-born mother and a Jamaican father, made history, becoming the first “woman of color” to be slated for vice president by a major party.
While some of us still struggle to pronounce her name properly, others are wrestling with a racial background that is, well, complicated.
In fact, it is so complicated the Asian American Journalists Association and the South Asian Journalists Association sanctioned several descriptions for Harris, including being “the first Black woman, first Asian American woman, first South Asian woman and the first Indian American woman to be nominated for a presidential ticket by a major party.”
In America, her skin color says she was Black.
“My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud Black women,” Harris said.
Harris made a conscious effort to embrace the Black side of her family tree when she chose to attend Howard, a historically Black university, and to join the nation’s oldest Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
As a mother-in-law with an Indian American daughter-in-law and recently, a South Asian American son-in-law, with grandchildren that can check off multiple boxes, I know how difficult it can be for biracial Americans to simply be who they are.
On one hand, Harris’ nomination represents a sea change in American politics.
But on another, it is the same old same old.