Tag Archives: biracial

Is Kamala Devi Harris Desi Enough?

I just spent the last fifteen minutes enjoying a new TikTok cultural phenomenon. Wakhra Dougie.  It’s blowing up on TikTok.   Combining the Dougie with bhangra dance moves is certainly fun, but on a deeper level,  isn’t it a lot more? What could be a better way to express joy in the choice of Kamala Harris as the next VP candidate for the Democratic party?

Kamala Harris made history last week when she became Joe Biden’s running mate.  Immediately, every desi had an opinion on it.  While most were excited to see a person from their part of the world represented, it brought on the doubters. She is often described as the “first Black woman” every time she breaks another glass ceiling.  That irks the Indians.  Is Kamala Harris desi enough?  She’s only half Indian and why doesn’t she speak to it more often? She only comes to our community when she needs to raise money but not much else. How can she represent us?

I am sure there is a reason for that, part deeply personal and part, a commentary of our cultural expectations. 

Senator Harris was raised in the East Bay in the sixties, but it was not the Bay Area we know of now.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with a Jamaican economist, married him, and had two daughters. Raising two girls who were mixed brown and black was not that easy then, and not now either.  If we desis are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the most open of cultures to “otherness”.  

My guess is that her mother recognized this and decided that she would raise her children in a culture that would be more accepting of them.   As Ms. Harris described in her memoir, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls.” Going on to study at a HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities)  Howard University helped cement this identity.  

Then, there is the larger society as well.  Since they were racially half Black and appeared Black, they would always be identified as Black.  As research by the Pew Center says, “How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity.” 

I always found it very curious that President Obama, who was essentially raised by his white mother and grandparents, identified as a Black man.  

What does that say about our society’s cultural expectations?

My daughter, raised in America to a Sindhi dad and me, a Tamilian mom, says “Because I can’t speak any Indian language, my friends tell me I’m not actually Desi-American—that I’m just a coconut—brown on the outside and white on the inside.”  A friend of mine in San Diego was lamenting how her half desi-half Peruvian teenage daughter is not invited to the Indian parties of her peers because she is not “Indian enough”. 

What in the world does that even mean? If we are this quick to judge kids, who for the most part are proud of their biracial identities, imagine the Harris family in the 1960s.  

Kamala Harris has often admitted herself that she struggles to define herself for others. For me, she is a representation of our multicultural, blended, fluid society where everything is up for grabs.  Why not race?  She “is both”  Black and Indian.  

Why are we expecting her to be everything to both communities?

But as we are all learning through the stories of the BLM movement this year, our histories ( Black and Asian Americans) are intertwined.  Rev. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement which led to the Civil Rights movement here in America.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which directly affected most of us Asians in this country.  It opened up the door for us to immigrate.  We would not be here if not for the thousands of Black Americans who took to the streets to fight for their rights.  

At a time in history now, where civil rights and immigration are at the center of our civil and political discourse, Senator Kamala Harris uniquely brings a viewpoint and life experience that could help us move forward.  

The fact is that both parties in the United States use racial identity to segment the voting blocs to their advantage.  Although the financial power of the Indians is increasing, statistically we do not make up a large part of the electorate yet.  Eleven million Asian Americans will vote this year but the number of Black voters is estimated at 30 million.  

But the funny thing is that the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. So, does it really matter how Desi or how Black Kamala Harris is?  It should not. 

She is both and uniquely American at the end of the day.   Let our lack of imagination not box her into one identity.

Her story, her blended heritage will speak more to our children and grandchildren than we can imagine and inspire them to public service and politics.  There will come a time very soon, where people like her will be the norm, not the exception in this flat world. 

But it would behoove Senator Harris to reach out to our community in a more meaningful manner.  We would love to be a part of her journey and have our voices amplified.  

Vote for Harris and Biden if you think their policies will be good for America, not what Kamala looks like and which race she belongs to. 

We have come a long way, America!  I am excited by the journey ahead and I remain optimistic.  Maybe doing a Wakhra Dougie mashup TikTok video will be the most patriotic thing you will do today.  And Vote!


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Belief in a Myth Can Cost Us a Decade

I keep trying to put ten years into perspective. Ten years ago, my prevailing concern was getting into college. Ten years later, my prevailing concern is the Coronavirus pandemic. It is inevitable that there will be a next ‘thing’ we must focus our energy on but we shouldn’t forget that Census 2020 is currently underway. The census comes once a decade and will measurably affect our lives for the foreseeable future. 

It is imperative, then, that Census 2020 be accurate. 

The census is a series of questions from which….arise more questions? Disclosing race, income, citizenship status conflicts with our sensibility to keep information private. However, if that information is to benefit the community around me, I would like for it to be done in a thorough way. Racially identifying Indian, I generally get frustrated with the box that demarks all Asians as the same. I know I’m not the only one. Then I think about my friends who are mixed race and the complications they face.

But like a true millennial, I am quick to jump to conclusions. So I recruited my mixed race friends, Ajay Srinivas and Nisha Kumar, to help me explore the myths and realities of Census 2020. 

Nisha predicted using a biracial/mixed race option and Ajay said he would identify as South Asian and West Indian. 

A quick FAQ search on census site informed us that: 

Answers to this question should be based on how you identify. Each person can decide how to answer. You can mark more than one race for each person. Once you check a category, you’ll also be asked to write in the person’s origin.

  • White: The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.
  • Black or African American: The category “Black or African American” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Examples of these groups include, but are not limited to, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali. The category also includes groups such as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: The category “American Indian or Alaska Native” includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who identify as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” and includes groups such as Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government, and Nome Eskimo Community. Census respondents should report the person’s American Indian or Alaska Native tribe or tribes in the space provided.
  • Asian: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Other Asian (including Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Other Pacific Islander (including Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)
  • Some Other Race: The option “Some other race” includes all responses that don’t fit within the categories above.

Nisha would be able to use the multiple check marks to identify her half-Indian and half-White origins, but Ajay was a little more confused. “Will the Census account for my Trini population?…Will my diaspora benefit from the write-in option considering West Indian is marked as Black/African American and I’m of Indian descent?” 

Ajay highlighted that there are many Indian diaspora populations in countries outside the Asian marker. Those populations benefit from their voice being represented and are left at a disadvantage when lumped with South Asians or Blacks/African Americans. 

These were good questions I didn’t have answers to. This will be the first year that we have a write-in option. And perhaps, until we use the write-in option, we may not know of its impact.

What we do know is that there is a possible outcome the census can have. I ask Nisha and Ajay about the potential influence and receive well informed responses. Ajay and Nisha both agree that it will arbitrate “federal funding and resource allocation”. 

I cross-check their information with that provided by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use the data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data is used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.

Nisha, Ajay, and I are in consensus on why it is crucial that we fill out the census. However, things aren’t so simple, right? 

PRIVACY. FEAR. DATA USE. Do we have something to be apprehensive about with the census?

Nisha decidedly responds, “I am not worried for myself but I understand the fear of filling out the census if you’re undocumented. How can I ensure the information won’t be used against them? We’ve seen it happen with DACA.”

Ajay corroborates, “There is a fear that census data will be used maliciously by the Trump administration against POC, DACA, minorities, immigrants, etc.”

I resonate with their anxiety for the people around them but sometimes research is a panacea. I find that:

The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. In fact, every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life.

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. This law protects your answers to the 2020 Census. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous: the Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.

Make it a part of your daily tasks – drink chai, eat cereal, take the census, shower, laundry, lunch, etc. 

And if that isn’t enough of an encouragement, taking the census is a legal obligation and you can be fined $5,000 for not completing it and up to $10,000 for falsifying information.

The census information should be mailed to you between March 12- March 20 and you have until April 1st to complete the census by mail, on the phone, or online

It is our social responsibility to urge everyone to take the 2020 Census. You are equipped with the knowledge to ease the worry that others might have. Don’t forget – we are what we report. 

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.