“The dice are loaded against an ‘incredibly resilient’ Kamala Harris”

It’s unreasonable for American Indians to demand that Harris identify more with the community, says author of new book


Delivered: Kamala Harris: phenomenal woman

Author: Chidan and Rajghatta

Editor: HarperCollins Publishers India


Growing up as the daughter of a single mother could have made Kamala Harris “incredibly resilient” in a male-dominated world, but the dice are loaded against the first American woman, first Indian and first black vice-president.

So says Indian journalist author Chidanand (“Chidu”) Rajghatta in a new book about the rise of the daughter of an Indian breast cancer scientist mother and a Jamaican father, a professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University.

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

Admittedly, “she had a few lucky ones – including being chosen by Biden as running mate despite a train wreck during the presidential campaign”, but “the perception that she was disappointing”, he claims, stems in much of a “latent sexism, in politics as in all spheres of life.

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

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

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

Outside of a “social network, more toxic and amplified than ever before, something the previous veep didn’t address to this point,” Rajghatta notes, “there is the wide range and scope of things that ‘he’s being asked to solve – from the border crisis to the right to vote.”

“These are things that wise white men haven’t been able to solve for generations, and they expect a woman to solve them in a year?” he asks.

“Leave me alone! I have no idea how she’s going to bounce back, because the dice are stacked against her,” Rajghatta claims.

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

Rajghatta also thinks it is unreasonable on the part of many American Indians who demand that she identify more with the Indian community than the African American community as she does.

“You can’t impose your wish on his growing-up experience,” he says, noting that “Harris’ formative experience is really more African-American than Indian-American.”

“She grew up in a black ecosystem, surrounded by surrogate black mothers, rather than Indian aunts,” Rajghatta points out.

“There wasn’t as much of a desi ecosystem in Oakland and Berkeley back then as there is now, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Kamala and her sister feel blacker than desi,” he says. “They grew up black.”

Rajghatta attributes the growing influence of the Indian diaspora in the United States relative to other immigrants to “education and social and political engagement resulting from comfort with the English language and democratic institutions”.

“We now know well that American Indians have the best parameters of education – forget about wealth for now; the pacifier mainly comes from education,” he notes.

They are also comfortable engaging with democratic systems and institutions, Rajghatta says. Money, a good education, and business ventures also make the second largest immigrant group 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 Flying Horse: 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 American Bazaar, Rajghatta discusses the subject of his latest book, Kamala Harris:

AB: You’ve followed Kamala Harris’ political career since she was California attorney general. What is the secret of his phenomenal rise, his greatest political force?

CR: The most striking thing about him is his resilience. She’s strong and she doesn’t give up or back down.

She’s had a few lucky ones — including being chosen by Biden as a running mate despite a presidential campaign train wreck — but she’s putting in hard yards and that’s been evident from the time of her first major election, when she would be campaigning in the early in the morning with nothing more than an ironing board for support.

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

AB: Most often, Harris identifies with the African American community rather than the Indian community. Is this a politically smart thing to do?

CR: It’s simply because African Americans are a larger demographic. But aside from politics for a moment, his formative experience is truly African-American more than Indian-American. She grew up in a black ecosystem, surrounded by surrogate black mothers, rather than Indian aunts.

There wasn’t as much of a desi ecosystem in Oakland and Berkeley back then as there is now, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Kamala and her sister feel more black than desi. They grew up black.

AB: A lot of American Indians find Harris’ dual identity problematic. Do you think it’s unreasonable for them to demand that she identify more with the community?

CR: He is. You cannot impose your wish on his growth experience. Listen, his father was Jamaican. She is half black. But even before her Indian mother Shyamala Gopalan met Donald Harris, she (Shyamala) was already engaged in the black community. She had no problem raising her daughters as black girls.

AB: Why has Harris’ popularity declined over the past year? She has been in power with a lot of criticism even within the Democratic Party about her performance. How can she bounce back?

CR: I think the perception that it was disappointing stems from two issues: first, there has always been and still is latent sexism, in politics as in all walks of life.

Because she is the first female vice president and the first of color, she faces more scrutiny than any other vice president in history. So not only is the bar set high — partly because the perception is that the president is old and infirm — but the arc lights are also constantly trained on her.

No vice president has been more in the spotlight. If anything, in the past, especially 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, all she has to do is say one wrong or inappropriate word or misstep, and the media, more polarized than ever, will descend on her. Then she has to deal with social media, which is more toxic and amplified than ever, something previous veeps haven’t dealt with to this point.

Finally, there is the wide range and scope of the problems it is asked to solve – from the border crisis to voting rights. These are things that wise white men haven’t been able to solve for generations, and they expect a woman to solve them in a year?

Leave me alone! I don’t know how she’ll bounce back, because the dice are stacked against her.

AB: What are the key factors behind the growing influence of the Indian diaspora in the United States relative to other immigrants?

CR: Education and social and political engagement stemming from fluency with the English language and democratic institutions. We now know well that American Indians have the best educational parameters – forget wealth for the moment; the pacifier comes mainly because of upbringing.

They are also comfortable engaging in democratic systems and institutions, which is evident among the many Indians who begin their political careers by running for school boards and state-level offices.

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

And then, of course, they’re wealthy – a good education and business enterprise means they also have the highest family income, etc., making them an attractive demographic.

From employees, supporters and fundraisers, we are starting to see many of them in leadership positions.

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