“Dice is loaded against an ‘incredibly resilient’ Kamala Harris”

Phenomenal WomanUnreasonable for Indian Americans to demand Harris identify more with the community, says the author of a new book


Book: Kamala Harris: Phenomenal Woman

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India


Growing up as a daughter of a single mother might have made Kamala Harris “incredibly resilient” in a male-dominated world, but the dice is loaded against America’s first woman, first Indian and first Black Vice President.

So says Indian journalist author Chidanand (‘Chidu’) Rajghatta in a new book on the rise of the daughter of a breast-cancer scientist Indian mother and a Stanford University emeritus professor of economics Jamaican father.

“The most striking thing about her is her resilience. She’s strong and she does not give up, does not back down,” says Rajghatta, who has had a ringside view of US politics as a Washington,DC, based foreign correspondent since 1994.

Admittedly, “she’s had some lucky breaks – notably being picked by Biden as a running mate despite a presidential campaign train wreck,” but “the perception that she has been underwhelming,” he contends largely stems from “latent sexism, in politics as in every sphere of life.”

READ: Kamala Harris smashes the glass ceiling (November 8, 2020)

“Because she is the first female vice-president, and the first one of color, she faces more scrutiny than any other vice-president in history,” says Rajghatta, currently the foreign editor and US bureau chief of the Times of India.

“No vice-president has been more in the limelight,” he says. “If anything, in the past, particularly in the distant past, vice-presidents could have slept through their four years in office and no one would have noticed or been bothered.”

Apart from a “social media, more toxic and amplified than ever before, something previous veep did not face to this extent,” Rajghatta notes, “there is the wide range and scope of things she is being asked to solve – from the border crisis to voting rights.”

“These are things that wise white men have not been able to resolve for generations, and they expect a woman to solve it in a year?” he asks.

“Give me a break! I have no idea how she will bounce back, because the dice is loaded against her,” asserts Rajghatta.

READ: Kamala Harris effect galvanizes Indian American voters (October 14, 2020)

Rajghatta also believes that it’s unreasonable on the part of many Indian Americans who demand that she identify more with the Indian American community than the African American community as she does.

“You cannot impose your wish on her growing up experience,” he says noting Harris’ “formative experience is truly African-American more than Indian-American.”

“She grew up in a black eco-systems, surrounded by surrogate black mother figures, rather than Indian aunties,” Rajghatta points out.

“There was no desi ecosystem in Oakland and Berkeley those days as much as there is now, so it should not surprise anyone that Kamala and her sister feel more black than desi,” he says. “They grew up black.”

Rajghatta attributes Indian diaspora’s growing clout in the USA compared with other immigrants to “education and social and political engagement arising from comfort with English language and democratic institutions.”

“We now know well that Indian-Americans have the best education metrics – forget wealth for the moment; the lolly comes mainly on account of education,” he notes.

They are also comfortable engaging with democratic systems and institutions, says Rajghatta. Money, good education and business enterprise also make the second largest group of immigrants after Chinese, not including Latinos, an attractive demographic.

One of the longest serving foreign correspondents in Washington, DC, Rajghatta has written two books, including The Horse That Flew: How India’s Silicon Gurus Spread their Wings.

READ: Kamala Harris says she would make her Indian mother proud (October 8, 2020)

In an interview with the American Bazaar, Rajghatta talks about the subject of his latest book, Kamala Harris:

AB: You have followed Kamala Harris’ political career since her days as the attorney general of California. What is the secret of her phenomenal rise, her biggest political strength?

CR: The most striking thing about her is her resilience. She’s strong and she does not give up, does not back down.

She’s had some lucky breaks – notably being picked by Biden as a running mate despite a presidential campaign train wreck – but she puts in hard yards and that has been evident from the time of her first major election, when she would be out campaigning early in the morning with nothing more than an ironing board for support.

I think growing up as a daughter of a single mother has made her incredibly resilient in a male-dominated world.

AB: More often than not Harris identifies herself with the African American community rather than Indian American. Is that politically a smart thing to do? 

CR: It is, simply because African-Americans are a larger voting demographic. But set aside politics for a moment, her formative experience is truly African-American more than Indian-American. She grew up in a black eco-systems, surrounded by surrogate black mother figures, rather than Indian aunties.

There was no desi ecosystem in Oakland and Berkeley those days as much as there is now, so it should not surprise anyone that Kamala and her sister feel more black than desi. They grew up black.

AB: Many Indian Americans find Harris’ dual identity problematic. Do you think it is unreasonable on their part to demand that she identify more with the community?   

CR: It is. You cannot impose your wish on her growing up experience. Look, her father was Jamaican. She is half-black. But even before her Indian mother Shyamala Gopalan met Donald Harris, she (Shyamala) was already engaged with the black community. She had no problem bringing up her daughters as black girls.

AB: Why has Harris’ popularity gone down in the past year she has been in office with a lot of criticism from even within the Democratic Party about her performance. How can she bounce back?

CR: I think the perception that she has been underwhelming stems from two issues: One, there has always been and there continues to be latent sexism, in politics as in every sphere of life.

Because she is the first female vice-president, and the first one of color, she faces more scrutiny than any other vice-president in history. So not only is the bar high – in part because the perception is the President is old and infirm – but the arc lights are also constantly on her.

No vice-president has been more in the limelight. If anything, in the past, particularly in the distant past, vice-presidents could have slept through their four years in office and no one would have noticed or been bothered.

With the first female Veep, she only has to utter one wrong or misplaced word or one false step, and the media, more polarized than ever before, will come down on her. Then she has to contend with social media, more toxic and amplified than ever before, something previous veep did not face to this extent.

Finally, there is the wide range and scope of things she is being asked to solve – from the border crisis to voting rights. These are things that wise white men have not been able to resolve for generations, and they expect a woman to solve it in a year?

Give me a break! I have no idea how she will bounce back, because the dice is loaded against her.

AB: What are the key factors for Indian diaspora’s growing clout in the USA compared with other immigrants?

CR: Education and social and political engagement arising from comfort with English language and democratic institutions. We now know well that Indian-Americans have the best education metrics – forget wealth for the moment; the lolly comes mainly on account of education.

They are also comfortable engaging with democratic systems and institutions and this is evident in the many Indians who begin their political career running for school boards and state level offices.

Because they are reasonably equipped with English language skills, they are comfortable in their outreach. And of course, there is also the numbers. Indians are probably the second largest group of immigrants after Chinese, not including Latinos.

And then of course they are moneyed – good education and business enterprise means they also have the highest family income etc, which makes them an attractive demographic.

From being staffers and supporters and fund raisers, we are starting to see many take up leadership positions.

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