Ethnicity versus ‘people of color’ …
Last week U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, ended her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Ms. Harris cited insufficient funds necessary for securing victory in the primaries. I thought Ms. Harris would at least make it to the New Hampshire primary in February, but with reportedly only $10 million on hand, Ms. Harris decided that being the nominee was not in the cards.
The Democrats have been pushing the “people of color” description of candidates this cycle and Ms. Harris was one of its poster faces. The daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, Ms. Harris put on the cloak of American blackness, marketing her membership in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and harping her alumni status as a graduate of the historically black Howard University.
For voters outside of black culture Ms. Harris may have appeared to have some advantage with black voters, giving her at least a shot at surpassing former Vice President Joe Biden and winning the South Carolina primary also scheduled for February 2020. But for a significant portion of black American voters, ethnicity still matters.
A lot of blacks don’t like being called ‘people of color’….
I detest the term, ‘people of color.’ It means nothing culturally to many blacks who see the term as just another way to dilute blackness or move blacks further down the political food chain. The term “physicalizes” the issue of race and ethnicity making black just a color when in actuality American blackness runs far deeper.
To be black in America is to acknowledge and embrace a view of life that celebrates and practices a sense of resiliency in the face of centuries long discriminatory and oppressive acts; acts that reflected a western philosophy that said it was right to turn human beings into chattel and dispose and replace them like any part in a machine. To be black in America is to be reminded that you navigate a political economy that still doesn’t see you as human.
Like Ms. Harris, I too am Caribbean, born and bred. While we cannot claim the pain and triumph of being black American, we should instead be honest about our own story and own it. Co-opting another culture’s story for your own gain is pretty treacherous and this act, I believe, underlay the backlash against Ms. Harris. Ms. Harris was afraid to be herself or at least project her real self.
She may have believed that with the success of another “people of color” favorite, Barack Obama, that she could ride the Obama Coalition to victory. I am just speculating, but if this was indeed the case, that thought only demonstrated that she was very out of touch. In the almost three years that have passed since Mr Obama left office, his presidency is now viewed by a growing number of blacks as ineffective and valueless where he failed to implement policies with an eye on a black economic and political empowerment agenda. Ms. Harris, given her questionable past as a prosecutor, was also being viewed that way.
The people of color path to governance is debris filled…
Ms. Harris’ withdrawal represents the beginning of the end of the people of color narrative. I believe more blacks, particularly those with an eye on changes in global economics and politics and America’s slow but deliberate move toward isolationism, will determine that an ethnic, more independent route to winning more political power is the way to go. Unlike Ms. Harris, who appears to have never found herself, black America can’t afford to lose itself.