Heritage of Kamala Harris Under Fire

Her dad is Jamaican and her mom is Indian, and a far-right critic says she's not an 'American Black'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2019 6:01 PM CDT
Kamala Harris Campaign Blasts 'Racist' Line of Attack
A 1970 photo provided by the Kamala Harris campaign shows her, left, with her sister, Maya, and mother, Shyamala, outside their apartment in Berkeley, California.   (Kamala Harris campaign via AP)

Kamala Harris made big headlines at the first Democratic debate for her criticism of Joe Biden's previous stances on race legislation. “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race,” Harris said at one point. That line, however, has since set off a whole lot of controversy regarding Harris' heritage, controversy that includes a deleted retweet from the president's son. The details:

  • The tweet: When Harris called herself black during the debate, a figure on the right named Ali Alexander tweeted: "Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I'm so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It's disgusting. ..."
  • The facts: Harris' father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India, per BuzzFeed. The first-term senator was born in Oakland, spent her high school years in Canada after her parents' divorce, then returned to the US.
  • Going viral: Alexander's tweet went viral, thanks to retweets from Donald Trump Jr. and other high-profile figures. Social media researcher Caroline Orr suggested that bots also helped spread the message, reports the New York Times. “A lot of suspect accounts are pushing the ‘Kamala Harris is not Black’ narrative tonight,” Orr tweeted. "It’s everywhere and it has all the signs of being a coordinated/artificial operation.”

  • Trump Jr.: When he retweeted Alexander's post, Trump Jr. wrote, "Is this true? Wow." But Trump Jr. deleted his own post hours later. A spokesman explained: "Don's tweet was simply him asking if it was true that Kamala Harris was half-Indian because it's not something he had ever heard before, and once he saw that folks were misconstruing the intent of his tweet, he quickly deleted it."
  • Team Harris: The senator's campaign compared the Trump Jr. retweet to his father's "birther" attacks on Barack Obama, notes Business Insider. "This is the same type of racist attacks his father used to attack Barack Obama. It didn't work then and it won't work now." As BuzzFeed notes, a whole other subset of Harris critics assert incorrectly that she is ineligible to run for president, claiming she isn't a citizen (she is) or was born in Canada (she wasn't).
  • What Harris has said: In an interview with the Washington Post earlier this year, Harris said that when she first ran for office, she struggled with the perception that she had to categorize herself in regard to heritage. She said she decided not to do so, except to call herself an "American." The takeaway quote: "My point was: I am who I am. I’m good with it. You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it."
  • Alexander elaborates: “Me pointing out that Kamala Harris has a mother from India and a father from Jamaica went viral last night because many people assume she descends from Black American Slaves,” Alexander, described by the Times as an "alt-right fringe figure," tells the Daily Beast. “She does not. I corrected Kamala Harris last night because she stole debate time under the premise that she is an African-American when she is in fact a biracial Indian-Jamaican who is a first generation American.”
(More Kamala Harris 2020 stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.