Kamala Devi Harris, typically known as Kamala Harris, is a U.S. politician. She is currently serving as the Vice President alongside President Joe Biden.
Since being propelled into the national spotlight, questions arose about race, specifically whether or not she is black.
In this article, we answer the question: Is Kamala Harris black?
Is Kamala Harris Black?
Yes, Kamala Harris can be counted as black if she chooses as she has black in her.
That said, many would class her as mixed race as she is half Jamaican and half Indian. However, as we’ll see below, there is no clear line of sight when accessing Kamala Harris’s racial and ethnic background.
If Kamala Harris claims she is a Tamil Indian, she can make a convincing case because her mother influenced her life genetically and culturally.
If she claims she is black due to her father’s Jamaican roots and her upbringing in California, she can make a convincing case for that too.
To make deciding her race more confusing, Kamala Harris describes herself as American, full stop. Since she is an American politician and claiming to be American appeals to a broad base, maybe it is how she feels, and perhaps it is not.
The best insight as to whether or not she is black comes from growing up close to American black culture in her neighborhood, along with her Jamaican father at home and deciding to attend a historically black college.
The problem is that since Kamala Harris’s Indian half is so important to her, she does not claim to be black despite growing up in a majority-black area.
There is no doubt that her formative years in Berkeley, California while living in a majority-black community, influenced how Kamala Harris sees herself. She is also multi-ethnic, multicultural, and mixed race.
Only Kamala Harris can settle the debate of whether or not she is black, so, for now, she is an American of Jamaican and Indian descent.
To better understand Kamala Harris’s race, we should look at her father’s race. Specifically, it is important to go back to her father’s Jamaican origins and understand that country’s racial diversity.
In short, Jamaica has a majority mixed-race population, and Kamala Harris’ father, who was born in Jamaica, is no exception.
Tainos from South America first settled the island in 600 A.D. When the Spanish came, they left behind some Spanish settlers and West Africans the Spanish brought in as slaves. The Tainos, Spanish, and West Africans mixed. And now, very few pure Tainos remain today.
Next, the British seized Jamaica from the Spanish and added themselves to the gene pool, along with successive waves of West Africans brought in during the slave trade, which they abolished later in 1834.
As a result of the import of slaves, people of West African descent became the largest racial group in the Jamaican population.
For a variety of reasons, such as punishment for a crime or indentured servitude, after the abolition of slavery, other western Europeans also came in and added themselves to the racial mix.
Next came Indians, who also arrived as indentured servants in 1847. Over 36,000 Indians arrived over the years until 1921. Later in the 20th century, more arrived as merchants.
Indians, to this day, are the least racially mixed group in Jamaica, preferring to maintain their ethnic families. They constitute about 1.5% of the population.
Not long after the Indians arrived, Chinese people came in 1854 and worked as indentured servants. However, only 200 arrived, and they were primarily Chinese males. Although they made enough of a mark that Chinese shops are still a part of Jamaica’s vibrant culture.
Lastly, Lebanese and Syrian immigrants arrived in the late 19th century as merchants and sold clothing, textiles, and other goods. While they make up a small percentage of the population, they still add to Jamaican racial and ethnic diversity.
All this immigration means that a person from Jamaica is ethnically Jamaican and of mixed race. Jamaican refers to the specific mix of ethnic groups forming something new. The only exception is the Indians, who never racially integrated into the population along with other ethnic groups.
Because of the Jamaican genetic diversity on Kamala Harris’s father’s side, and her Tamil Indian descent on her mother’s side, Kamala Harris is Jamaican and Indian.
As an aside, Kamala Harris’s mother did not come from Jamaica’s Indian population. She left India to study in the U.S.
Per the description of Jamaican racial diversity given above, Kamala Harris’s father is Jamaican, and his appearance reflects the majority West African population mixed into the ethnic diversity.
Deciding which races make up what percentage of most Jamaicans is complicated, and Kamala Harris’s father is authentically Jamaican in this regard.
Donald J. Harris, born in Jamaica, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and economics professor at Stanford University.
Kamala Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, passed away in 2009 after losing her bout with colon cancer. She was a breast cancer researcher. People described her personality as larger than life, despite standing only 5 feet tall.
She was of Tamil Indian descent and arrived in the U.S. in 1958 to study at the University of California, Berkeley.
On October 20, 1964, in the city of Oakland, California, Kamala Harris was born. At the moment she is 57 years old. She spent her early childhood in Berkeley, California. Following her parents’ divorce, she eventually moved with her mother and sister to Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the age of twelve.
Kamala Harris finished high school in Montreal, and she moved back to attend Howard University, a historically black college in Washington D.C.
So far, she has never lived in Canada again or anywhere else outside her country.
Kamala Harris describes herself as being a “proud American.”
Although she spent about one-third of her childhood in Montreal, Quebec, she spent the rest of her childhood primarily in Berkeley, California. She also returned to the U.S.A to continue her studies in 1982 and has remained ever since.
She was born in the United States, has an American birth certificate and citizenship. She only lived a few years abroad in her youth, and returned to attend university in the United States, and she has remained ever since: Kamala Harris’s nationality is unquestionably American.
Kamala Harris’s ethnicity is as hard to define as trying to figure out the exact race of a Jamaican person. You are not going to reach one, simple, convenient answer.
Harris’s parents and upbringing had the most direct influence on her life. We must remember this when we try to define: What is Kamala Harris’s ethnicity?
First, the basics:
- Jamaican culture from her father
- Indian and Hindu culture from her mother
- As children, Harris and her sister regularly went to an African American church in Oakland.
- In Berkeley, she grew up in a majority-black area.
- She and her sister also regularly visited a nearby African American Cultural Center in Berkeley.
- Her mother introduced her and her sister to Hinduism, and they also attended a Hindu temple.
- Kamala Harris visited her mother’s home and family in Chennai, India several times. There, she developed a strong bond that heavily influenced her thinking from her maternal grandfather P. V. Gopalan.
- She has also visited family members in Jamaica.
- Her parents’ divorce split this unique combination into two pieces when she was seven years old, and she only saw her father when she visited him in Palo Alto, California.
- After her parents divorced, she lived with her mom and sister, which means home life took on more Indian characteristics.
- At the age of twelve, she moved to Montreal, Quebec, the French-speaking part of Canada, where she remained until she graduated high school.
- When she returned to the United States, she attended Howard University, a historically black college.
Also, it is necessary to dig into other areas of her past to add to her ethnic roots. Events in her childhood, outside of her family, impacted her ethnicity.
As a child she was sent to a majority white school in an effort to change the demographics of the area.
She also experienced anti-black racism as a child when she and her sister were not allowed to play with other kids in her father’s majority white, new neighborhood in Palo Alto, California. Reportedly, this happened because some neighbors considered Kamala Harris and her sister to be black.
However, experiencing anti-black racism is not the same as feeling half Jamaican and half Indian. Only Kamala Harris knows what she truly feels inside.
One thing that seems apparent, is that Kamala Harris feels ethnically more accepted, or more comfortable, in the black community because when she returned to the United States, she attended a historically black university.
The unfortunate answer is that Kamala Harris does not have one, easily defined ethnicity. Furthermore, she can fit in with multiple ethnic groups because she has a diverse background.
To find the best answer, we need to take a look at her home for most of her life, the United States. As a diverse American, Kamala Harris feels comfortable with American culture, African-American culture, Jamaican-American culture, and Indian-American culture.
The answer is not simple, but it seems that Kamala Harris is a mixture of all of these cultures, influences, and ethnicities.
Kamala Harris has a diverse and vibrant background and family tree. Her cultural experiences growing up in America introduced her to Jamaican, Indian, American, and African-American ethnic experiences, not to mention a few years of Quebec, Canada, thrown into the mix.
She is all of these things.