Senator Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential race this week, was brutal in her takedown of former vice president Joe Biden at the first debate among the party’s presidential aspirants in June. But instead of positioning herself as “the only black person on this stage”, what if she had called herself the only biracial among the 20 candidates in the race?
As the daughter of a woman from Chennai in India and a black man from Jamaica, she would have owned that space, which is a key emerging American demographic group. Biracial, or multiracial Americans, a survey by the Pew Research Centre noted in 2015, are “young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole”.
Harris is one of them, and so is former President Barack Obama, who was born to a white American woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. But he never called himself biracial. “I identify as African-American — that’s how I’m treated and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it,” he had said. Harris, who has been called the “female Obama”, followed the script. “I was born black and I’ll die black, and I am proud of it,” she said earlier this year, to questions about her being African-American.
Obama had faced similar questions, but was embraced by the African-American community in the end as one of their own. Harris wasn’t, despite her best efforts. The minority community, which plays a crucial role in Democratic presidential primaries, has thrown its weight fully behind the former president’s deputy, Joe Biden, and has stayed firmly by his side.
Harris could have forged a new path instead, as a biracial American. Or tried it at the least, punting on the Democratic party’s current willingness to look far and wide for a candidate to beat President Donald Trump in 2020. Pete Buttigieg, a little known mayor from Indiana, is also the first openly gay man to run for the White House. He is currently polling at Number 4 in the overall RealClearPolitics average of polls among the 15 remaining candidates in the field, and is right at the top in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that kick off the presidential caucuses and primaries.
And there is Andrew Yang, a Taiwanese-American entrepreneur. He has spawned an army of supporters who call themselves the “Yang Gang”, inspired by his unorthodox candidacy, which is a package of new ideas, novel messaging and his own non-conformist persona. He has refused to wear a tie to any of the presidential debates thus far. He is in the seventh position in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, ahead of seasoned politicians like Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard.
Like them, Harris may want to be “more herself” , as a Democratic strategist said, next time (oh yes, there will be a next time; she is far too young and smart to quit). She should run as a “young, proud, tolerant” biracial American, and not as an American of African or Indian descent.
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