Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) begins her official presidential campaign Sunday in her hometown of Oakland.
The ruckus over whether presidential contender Kamala Harris is black enough has grown to ridiculous proportions, for all the wrong reasons.
Critics question her bi-racial background — her mother is Indian and father Jamaican — and her decision to marry a white man, despite attending historically black Howard University. Political analyst and economist Boyce Watkins sparked a flurry of Twitter activity after he posted this question: “If #KamalaHarris went to an #HBCU, what do you think led her to marry a white man?” Nearly 13,000 people responded, and perhaps the best clapback came from political analyst Zerlina Maxwell who tweeted back, “men like you.”
Ms. Harris also often refers to herself as a women of color and not black, which causes some people to cringe.
Let’s not get it wrong. Race matters in American politics.
African-American voters have every right to question whether a candidate will represent their best interests (while still being president to the rest of the country, of course). Disparities in wealth, health and education very much exist, and African Americans want a president who will support policies that will help improve their plight in life.
Between 1983 and 2016, median wealth of black families dropped by more than half after inflation, according to a report released last month by the Institute for Policy Studies. In comparison, white wealth jumped by more than 33 percent. What kinds of ideas does Senator Harris have to reverse that trend for African American families?
What should matter to African American voters is where she stands on issues that affect the black community and not who she goes to sleep with every night. It would be one thing if Ms. Harris somehow solely dated white men because she put black men as a whole into some sort of inferior bag. But there is no indication that is the case. She said she married her husband and fellow attorney for love.
Maybe, rather than worry about who Ms. Harris is married to, voters concerned about race issues should give a side eye to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a possible presidential contender who declared this week: “I honestly don’t see race.” Has he seen the growth in hate crimes lately?
Some, including Mr. Watkins, would argue that who you marry is an extension of who you are. Well, U.S. Housing Secretary and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is married to a black woman, but he has pushed to dismantle many of the housing safety net programs that have helped disadvantaged African Americans.
The California senator used the vibrant, multi-racial city as a launch pad for her 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy. But even though Harris was born in Oakland, many there don't see her as part of the community because she grew up in Berkeley and pursued a political career in San Francisco.
Ms. Harris has outlined some efforts she said will help African Americans, including investing more in historically black colleges and universities and pulling African Americans and others out of poverty through economic initiatives that focus on those who make less than $100,000, and she has pointed out the good economy has not helped everyone. She said she wants to continue to address mass incarceration policies that disproportionately land black men in prison and wants to find a solution to ending maternal deaths, which kill black women 3 to 4 times more than white mothers. In a more symbolic move, Ms. Harris along with Sen. Cory Booker, who is also running for president, sponsored legislation that would criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch and conspiracy to lynch for the first time in American history — and after more than 200 attempts by others to get such legislation passed.
Her history as a prosecutor, district attorney and attorney general in California is more of a mixed bag and has justifiably gotten more scrutiny. She supported programs to find first time offenders jobs in lieu of prison terms. But some have taken her to task for a program during her time as San Francisco’s district attorney that threatened jail time for parents whose kids who missed too much school. Ms. Harris has argued the policy was only for the most extreme cases of truancy, but many said putting families in the criminal justice system was not the solution.
Perhaps, Ms. Harris is getting so much scrutiny because some African Americans, most notably scholar Cornell West and commentator Tavis Smiley, thought that as president Barack Obama was not as vocal on African American issues as they had expected, and they don’t want to see a repeat.
Since 2010, when Kamala Harris improbably became California's attorney general, she has been a force to be reckoned with.
By Dan Morain
Feb 08, 2019 | 6:15 AM
DJs with the highly rated African American radio show “The Breakfast Club” brought that point up when interviewing Ms. Harris in an episode that aired Monday.
During that interview, Ms. Harris may have given her critics more fodder when she said she smoked weed while listening to rappers Snoop Dogg and Tupac in college. She graduated from college in the ‘80s. Those rappers didn’t release their first albums until the early ‘90s.
Ms. Harris should be herself, let her record speak for itself and not work too hard to defend her blackness. African Americans are not a homogeneous people. Voters see when people are being disingenuous and in the era of social media, they will call you out, as they did with memes after the Tupac comment. Sen. Elizabeth Warren learned that the hard way with her failed effort to use DNA testing to back up her past claims to Native American heritage, which didn’t help her credibility among critics and hurt it among others.