Kamala Harris’s name on the 2020 presidential ballot is historic for the nation, and is especially notable for women of color. However, most only know her as a person of African American descent, when she is actually of Asian Indian descent as well.
This naturally may raise a few questions. Asian Americans are a growing constituency in the United States, so one may wonder why Harris chooses to embrace and represent one background instead of both.
While Harris does not hide her Indian heritage, she also does not make an active effort to broadcast it the way she does her African American heritage. One may conclude that her approach is to appeal primarily to African Americans, who constitute a larger segment of the population, are often more politically active and are often Democrats, according to two studies by Pew Research Center.
Although there may be truth to this sentiment, I am hesitant to believe that Harris’ approach to her public identity is solely a formulated political strategy. Rather, I think it is a result of her own experience.
Harris grew up with a Jamaican American father and an Indian American mother, both of whom were active in her life. However, one external factor that may have shaped the way Harris views herself is the fact that she grew up in a heavily African American area: Oakland, California. Another factor is that she looks at least partially Black, but otherwise is ethnically ambiguous.
I myself am half white and half Asian. Although I am honest about my biracial background to those who ask, I could never reasonably identify as a white woman. I look Asian, and because my physical appearance is an intrinsic factor in my experience as a person, my self image is also Asian.
I do not know Harris’ experience, nor do I know why she chooses to present herself the way she does. I do, however, have a deep and personal understanding for why she may be quicker to embrace one side over the other.
Because I know it can be so difficult to have two identities that are both balanced and even with each other, it is easier for me to empathize with Harris’ personal approach to the public.