American Presidential election cycles are always torturously long and hellish to endure. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to know that 2020 is going to be historically toxic — even worse than 2016. The road to the Democratic nomination is going to be absolutely brutal. Some of the attacks are already in the gutter, and we’re not even out of January 2019 yet. It’s way too early to say anyone is a frontrunner, but Kamala Harris certainly has made a splash. It’s exciting for many to see a Black woman not just throw her ring into the hat but have a real shot. She’s being taken seriously and has much of the establishment Democratic machine behind her. Harris was always going to be “divisive” — women in power always are. Stir in her Blackness, and it’s a powder keg. Her foreign parentage makes matters even more volatile. The misogyny directed towards her is already off the charts, and there is a burgeoning birther campaign against Oakland-born Harris, whose mother is Indian and whose father is Jamaican. In response to Harris’s candidacy, we’re going to the see all the ugliness of the racism and xenophobia that was marshaled to attack Barack Obama and the misogyny that was aimed at Hillary Clinton. The attacks will be particularly caustic, because they’re directed towards an ambitious Black woman.
Harris’s “Blackness” is also under scrutiny. Whether someone is “Black enough” or Black in the right way is a tricky, sensitive question, one that many feel shouldn’t even be asked, particularly of someone who is being maligned the way Harris is. The situation is muddled, because Black Americans are asking these questions of Harris for different reasons — some of these reasons are facile and rooted in bad faith, others are trying to get at deeper issues of cultural identity and allegiance. Personally, I don’t think the question should be dismissed out of hand.
The construct of race is about hierarchy. That hierarchy primacies Whiteness, and it is particularly stark in the United States. Let’s not forget that the Jim Crow laws of the American South — particularly the one-drop rule — were so harsh they were unpalatable to the Nazis. A very particular history shaped Blackness and, more importantly, anti-Blackness in America. This legacy is connected to questions about how “Black” Harris is.