Kamala Harris: Hyphenations, Identity, And The Landscape For Personal Choice

A post by LTAR team member Jermaine Gregory

Before I divulge the topic, I shall begin with the title of an emotive speech by Sojourner Truth:

“Ain’t I A Woman?”

Here is my enquiry into how people should be able to identify themselves.

I would imagine it might be safe to say that your identity, across the general consensus, is where your parents were born and where you were born. People bring up this issue of how we identify as if it’s something that can be done wrongly if it doesn’t fit a narrow narrative of what it should be based on what they think they know.

I am, like others of my era second-generation English – on my maternal side – and first-generation English on my paternal side. Descent or heritage-wise, I would be a Jamaican-Grenadian-English Brit, I guess. A quadruple-barrelled identity, wow! I have never actually sat and thought of it like that before until writing this very piece. I have always responded to queries on where my parents are from without much more thought in that sense. I guess this might be because I have just seen it normal to appreciate both sides. Putting the three nations together kind of gives me a sense of “Oh, that’s interesting!

I am born and raised in England. I have visited Northern Ireland, and Wales numerous times over the years, yet to visit Scotland. I have also visited some other countries on the European continent, and Jamaica as a child for 6 weeks; my grandad took me for the best time of my 9-year-old life! May his spirit live forever.

I am a Brummy, and currently what I like to call an ‘Honorary Londoner’ having lived in The Big Smoke for over 8 years. I do not intend to stay in London for the rest of my life though. I do intend to reside for a time somewhere else in the world. However, that does not take away where I’m from. If I were to have a child in a new country would they face similar complexes, mainly from other people, about how they see themselves?

I am proud of my mixed heritage. Sounds funny even saying it. I am ‘black’, but I am mixed. They are two islands in the Caribbean, with distinct tones of culture and tradition. Fancy that for intersectionality of race?!

Picture this, Kamala Harris descends from an Indian mother and Jamaican father. Both born in those countries, coming to America and having Kamala, and her sister Maya. They would have gone through a certain immigration transition that was perhaps made more attractive due to the nature of their work and the potential for it in the USA. They were not refugees or part of any major trade deal as such, but career moves. Both Kamala’s parents were ultimately civil servants.

In a Washington Post article Kamala states that she is ‘American’. Reading further on I’m beginning to comprehend why it is quite evident that some African-Americans feel somewhat at odds with her due to her ‘falsely claiming African heritage’. At no point in the article where she spoke candidly with the reporter did she describe her identity as ‘African-American’. She treads that line not seeking to highlight her race herself, but of course history, and the medias role in all of this will ensure that it is a topic if we keep bringing it up.

What is achieved by highlighting, though unlikely, non-African ancestry?

Does it make that much of a difference to you?

Is the expectation placed on her as a response to the narrative that black people have to work ten times as hard as any white person once they have cleared ‘how black’ they are by credentials?

You are almost as bad as Trump calling for Obama’s passport to reveal his nationality. In fact, Trump seemed to only play into this narrative apparently created by Hilary Clinton supporters after she lost the Democratic nomination to Obama, according to the BBC.

Across media outlets I’ve seen she is described as ‘Indian-American’, ‘African-American’, ‘South Asian’, ‘Jamaican-Indian American; ,but here we have kamala revealing something quite piercingly relevant about the narrative about the dogma that seems to be attached to her blackness:
“My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters,” Harris writes in her recently published autobiography, “The Truths We Hold.”

The fact is she can be seen as Black due to her father, or Indian due to her mother. I guess really that identity is about what you identify as, not what pigeon-hole others in society want you to fit in, or refuse to acknowledge.

Can we take her for her words, as just ‘American’, or are we going to perpetuate this dogged behaviour that clings to personal interpretation of semantics – often warped – and persists in turning the idea of race into a politically motivated tool?

Would you like to pick for me?

Can I be English, or British?



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