By now you know that Kamala Harris is presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s pick to run alongside him as vice president. Many reactions to the historic announcement celebrated Harris’ professional achievements alongside what she represents as the first Black woman, the first Indian woman, and the first Asian-American woman to be on a major party ticket. She is all of those things. She doesn’t need to pick one.
Harris was raised by an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, and she identifies with both of those labels. I was raised by a Black mother and a mixed-race Indian and white father. I identify with all of those labels, too—because all of them have shaped me. People who fit all of those descriptors are my ancestors who came before me and the family who raised me; they have influenced how I understand myself and how I move through the world, and they will continue to do so. My experience as a multiracial woman will never map perfectly onto someone else’s experiences living in their own skin. Like Harris, I am Black—and I am Indian. One doesn’t negate the other.
Kamala Harris doesn’t fit neatly into one box, and she doesn’t need to. So, while different groups of people are excited to claim her and celebrate her as “one of us,” it’s disingenuous to ignore the other parts of her identity that she categorically says have shaped her. She’s not Black, “but” also Indian. She’s not Indian, “but” also Black. The word, instead of but, is and. And that’s not a bad thing.
Harris has spoken publicly about moving through the world as a woman of color so many times. She’s described the importance of her roots and her heritage in her own words and on her own terms, most notably in her 2019 memoir The Truths We Hold. In June, Harris told the New York Times the advice she offers young people who see her as a mentor. “I will say to them that you will often find that you are the only one who looks like you in the room, be it around the conference table or in a meeting or wherever you are,” she told interviewer Lisa Lerer. “But the thing to remember is you are never in that room alone. We are all in that room with you, expecting that you will use your voice, and use it with pride and use it in a way that represents all of those who are in the room with you but not physically there.”
Harris can’t go into a room and leave her Indianness or her Blackness in the hallway. That’s why I struggle with the suggestion that Harris isn’t Black “enough” or Indian “enough” to count as either, even though people are obviously well within their rights to say they feel like she doesn’t represent them. It’s just that that type of questioning is something I experience as a multiracial woman myself, and it’s confusing. No one can really question the theoretical labels you identify with, but they can (and do) question how you act and how you represent yourself. Was I Indian “enough” to have my small, traditional wedding blessing in Delhi with my father’s family, or was it actually some kind of cultural appropriation? When a form doesn’t have the option for “multiracial,” is it wrong for me to select Black? Who gets to decide?
Harris’ nomination is a win for so many groups. It’s a win for women, for Black Americans, for Asian-Americans, for Indian-Americans—and a win for multiracial and multiethnic Americans. She’s not one thing, she’s many things—like myself, like millions of others. She doesn’t have to pick one.