Indian-origin US Senator Kamala Harris, who officially kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign, has directly confronted critics who questioned her black heritage, saying she was not going to spend her time trying to educate them about who black people are.
Harris, 54, became the first Indian American and the second black woman to serve in the US Senate when she took office in 2017.
In an interview on Monday with New York-based The Breakfast Club radio, the show’s hosts asked the California Democrat to address a series of derogatory memes circulating on social media, questioning her black heritage, her record of incarcerating minorities as a prosecutor and her decision to marry a white man.
One of the hosts cited a meme that said Harris is “not African-American” because her parents were immigrants born in India and Jamaica and she spent her high school years in Canada.
“So I was born in Oakland, and raised in the US except for the years that I was in high school in Montreal, Canada,” the CNN quoted Harris as saying.
“And look, this is the same thing they did to Barack (Obama). This is not new to us and so I think that we know what they are trying to do.
“They are trying to do what has been happening over the last two years, which is powerful voices trying to sow hate and division, and so we need to recognise when we are being played,” she said.
When one of the hosts followed up by asking Harris how she responds to people who question “the legitimacy of your blackness”, she said “I think they don’t understand who black people are”.
“I am not going to spend my time trying to educate people about who black people are… I am black, and I am proud of being black… I was born black. I will die black, and I am not going to make excuses for anybody because they don’t understand,” the California senator said.
Harris was born in Oakland, California, to a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father in 1964. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer scientist who immigrated to the US from Madras (now Chennai). Her father, Donald Harris, was a professor of economics at Stanford University and emigrated from Jamaica in 1961.
Harris, a former California state attorney general, also said that she makes no apologies for pursuing violent criminals to keep communities safe, but added that she wished she could have done more to affect change.
About the criminal justice system, she said it is deeply flawed but she would not make apologies for pursuing violent criminals.
“Let’s not buy into the myth that black folks don’t want law enforcement. We do,” Harris said. “We don’t want excessive force. We don’t want racial profiling — but certainly if somebody robs, burglarises my house, I’m going to call the police,” the CNN reported.
When asked about the criticism she faced on social media for marrying a white man, the Senator said, “Look, I love my husband, and he happened to be the one that I chose to marry, because I love him – and that was that moment in time, and that’s it,”
“And he loves me,” the report said.
She also expressed her support for legalising marijuana, saying she has smoked — a joint, to be specific, adding with a laugh, “I did inhale.”