Mixed race was never a problem for Kamala Harris

Just 20 years ago the national census began allowing people to identify themselves as of more than one race. And now there is a presidential ticket that includes Kamala Harris, the proud daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother.

Harris’ historic nomination for vice president by the Democratic Party raises new challenges regarding a person’s identity and how they are labeled.

While her case is fairly typical of the multicultural and multiracial experience of so many people, many find it difficult to define it.

Harris claims all aspects of his origin, but identifies as a black person. She says that her mother – who has been the main influence in her life – raised her and her sister as black people, believing that this is how others would see them.

“My mother passed on to my sister Maya and me the values ​​that shaped our lives,” Harris said in his acceptance speech for the nomination to the Democratic National Convention. “She taught us to be strong, proud black women. And it also taught us to be proud of our Indian heritage. « 

A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that people of different backgrounds were increasing at a rate three times faster than the rest of the population. Most said they were proud of their multiple heritages, but also indicated that they were the targets of hurtful comments and jokes. And 25% said they were bothered by the assumptions people make about their origins.

Harris herself says she resents the need for people to label her in some way, stating that it feels good to be who she is.

« I didn’t have to process anything about my identity, » he said in a June interview with a Los Angeles Times podcast. « What bothers me is that they think I had a crisis about it and that I have to explain it. »

Things, however, are not so straightforward for many people of mixed race. In her Instagram account, Amanda Neal says that she is « very black and very pinay », alluding to the name of a woman of Filipino origin. Neal, a 30-year-old singing teacher, however, confesses that it was not easy to accept both aspects of her racial identity.

As a child, she said, people tried to make her choose between one of the two identities. Her mother is a Filipino immigrant and her father an African American. He said some Filipino relatives were telling him not to act or speak with an accent that was « too black. »

« That generated an anti-black feeling that I didn’t even know I had, » he said.

Sheila SatheWarner’s two children are mixed black and Asian, just like Harris. SatheWarner is of Indian descent and her husband is of Afro-Caribbean descent, from St. Croix.

One of her children looks more Indian and the other more black, but in both cases she emphasized their blackness, as did Harris’s mother. He encourages them to accept his curly hair and asks them not to use toy guns for fear of any run-ins they may have with the police.

« We always talk to them about their two origins, » said SatheWarner, principal of an Alameda, California high school. « But they are both black. »

This attitude derives from the legal principle known as « the one-drop rule », from the days of slavery, according to which anyone who had a drop of black blood could not own land or be free. Today it manifests itself through the way people categorize each other and in the social hierarchies between races, according to Sarah Gaither, a Duke University professor who studies race and who herself is of mixed race.

No one has had the same experiences or can act as « identity police, » said Gaither, stressing the importance of multiracial and multicultural people deciding for themselves who they are and accepting that the identity of a person of mixed race can evolve.

The census says that 3.5% of the population identified as mixed race in 2018, compared with 2.4% in 2000. A Pew study, however, found that the mixed race population increased fivefold. if you take into account people who identify as a specific race but say that one of their parents or grandparents is of another race.

On the other hand, although from 2000 people were able to identify as of more than one race, the available categories are not always clear.

Many residents of Latin American origin, for example, do not know whether to describe themselves as « Hispanic » – which does not constitute a race – or « some other race. »

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AP reporters Noreen Nasir (Chicago) and Michael Schneider (Orlando, Florida) contributed to this report.

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Sally Ho is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/_sallyho

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