So, did Joe Biden and his team consult the palm-leaf readers in Kanchipuram and the Indian astrologers in Boston before making the announcement today, somewhere between 4:10 pm and 4:15 pm Eastern Standard Time, that Kamala Devi Harris, the daughter of Shyamala Gopalan, a proper Tam-Brahm woman who married a Jamaican man in the 1960s in the progressive town of Berkeley in California during the Civil Rights Movement era, would be the “woman of colour” who would help him occupy the West Wing of the White House in January 2021? Whatever may be the case, it is official: Kamala Harris — the first-term junior senator from California and the state’s first woman attorney-general — will be former vice-president and Democrat nominee Joe Biden’s running mate.
For us, Indian Americans, this is welcome news, though many voters this time around, are wary of the steep leftward tilt that the Democratic Party has taken, and the shrill left/progressive wing of the party that is baying for a large share of the political dividends, come November. They are the ones driving the Black Lives Matter movement; they are the ones in the city council of Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago passing resolutions against India; and they are the ones who have occupied positions of power and influence in elite American universities and American media, driving a dangerous selective identity caravan that includes a variety of cunning, manipulative set of politicians and interest groups who seem to be driving America to the edge of a political precipice. She is an “African American”, the media proclaims, stretching the label for the benefit of African Americans who may not really consider her so, and who may be disappointed that this 55-year-old woman, daughter of a pioneering Indian Brahmin woman from Chennai and a conservative Jamaican man who is the epitome of a private person is going to be the V-P candidate instead of a “real” African American woman — a Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Val Demings, or a Stacey Abrams. But then, Kamala — “lotus in Sanskrit” as CNN and MSNBC have been displaying in the sidebar all evening — will do. We have to wait to see how the media, in the days to come, will translate “Devi” or “Shyamala” or “Maya” or what they will do with the information that Kamala’s mother, whom they have lauded as a civil rights activist, was a Tamil Brahmin, and her maternal family is truly invested and proud of their south Indian Brahmin cultural heritage. For that matter, we will have to see what they will do with her father’s political and cultural leanings, and his scolding of her about the use of marijuana in college, and of her stereotyping Jamaicans as easygoing folks who love their weed.
She is a politician, no doubt, and willing to stretch the truth, twist into shapes that the media can sell as good copy, and morph her identity to claim what she is really not, and what she did not actually do. For example, she said during the presidential debate, scolding her soon to be boss, “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day… That little girl was me.” But then, really, in Berkeley, with a PhD mother and a PhD father, both teaching in or graduates of elite universities — public and private — being bused to school? As reporters found out later, the busing program that Kamala’s progressive mother chose to ship her daughter to elementary school was voluntary, not mandatory. And, unlike the really very dark-skinned father of Barack Obama, Kamala’s father may be lighter-skinned than her Tam-Brahm mother. And unlike the missing, truant Kenyan father of Obama, Sen. Harris’ father was there, close by, even though he and Shyamala split when Kamala was just seven. But, the nature of identity politics in the US has declined to such levels that anyone running for office now has to paint himself or herself in the “acceptable colour of public choice”.
With distinguished, brilliant parents — her mother a cancer researcher, and her father an economist who taught at Stanford University for nearly three decades — Sen. Harris has a fine pedigree. She is married to Douglas Emhoff, who is Jewish, and who is an entertainment lawyer, most probably working on copyright issues, compensation issues, and so on. As it happened on the campaign trail last year, Kamala Harris had to answer questions about why she married a white man, but we should be thankful that these identitarians did not ask her why she married a Jew. Knowing that the Black-Jewish dynamic is a fraught one to this day, with the “Rev” Louis Farrakhan railing about Jews for as long as he has railed about the human condition and the racism that plagues much of American history, and which American society still wrestles with, that matter is sure to come up, dredged by the Republicans or whispered by the unhappy progressives, who also don’t like the positions on law and justice matters that Attorney General Kamala Harris took.
Some Hindu Americans have expressed unhappiness that Sen. Harris has rarely mentioned her Indian and her Hindu heritage in public rallies or in media interviews, except for saying that she grew up with her mother’s strong Indian influence and values. It is said that whenever she traveled to India when young she loved the idlis and vadas fed to her, and there is this lovely photograph of a very attractive and young Kamala decked in a saree sitting with her grandparents and cousins in Chennai, and we got a little made for TV moment when she had Mindy Kaling come to her house for making dosas!
Other concerns that Indian Americans have is the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party and the targeted demonising of Hindus, the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the so-called “progressives” from whose lips we cannot pry one harsh word about Xi Jinping or Pakistan or anything to do with the threats that India faces from its neighbours, from the pugnacious Chinese, or about the internal threats faced by India from religious supremacists and political extremists.
But then, what should be calming to those who are concerned about the leftward tilt is that Kamala Harris, as Attorney General, was a law and order person, and if indeed she has imbibed values from her mother and father, she, we hope, will play fair and balanced. However the events of the next few months shape up and matters shake out, Vice President Joe Biden has done himself some good by choosing Kamala Harris. She is strong enough to withstand pressure from her Republican opponents as well as from the left/progressive cabals.
Let us wish her well, for with a 78-year-old, forgetful man speaking garbled malarkey in the West Wing, she would be the one speaking for him and running the country next year.
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