Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Kamala: a mixed-race enigma

There is no place for ANY negativity right now in the Joe-and-Kamala campaign. I am campaigning for them and want them to succeed. 

Immediately after the announcement, however, I started seeing Facebook posts about Kamal’s African-American ancestry claims that caused me concern. PR-wise, I hope Kamala hasn’t claimed African ancestry unless she can clearly back it up, to avoid repercussions similar to those of Elizabeth Warren. Remember “Pocohantas”? The enemy is cruel and very effective, PR-wise.

Her mother is from India and her father from Jamaica. A claim of African-Jamaican ancestry would depend on whether the Caribbean ancestors were slaves, slave owners, or other immigrants. In Kamala’s bios, she cites Afro-Jamaican roots, which indicates she thinks slaves or freed slaves were in her family tree. 

Her father, in an article he wrote, says that his original Jamaican ancestor on the paternal side was an Irish slave owner, Harold Brown. Harold’s wife’s ancestry is unknown. This claim will be used negatively by the opposition, no doubt! Its presence on the Web has grown exponentially in the 24 hours since the announcement.

There is no information I could easily find online about whether the Brown descendants mixed with slaves or other Afro-Jamaicans. There were multiple generations between Kamala and the end of slavery in Jamaica in 1838 (earlier than in the US) in which mixing might have occurred.  

Snopes, on the other hand, could find no definitive evidence that the Harrises are descendants of Harold Brown.

That’s the paternal side. Kamala’s father briefly addresses his maternal ancestors in his writings, citing a grandmother as influential in his life. In photos of Kamala with that Jamaican great-grandmother, Iris (see photo, from Kamala’s campaign), Iris clearly looks Afro-Jamaican. So one can safely presume Kamala didn’t descend purely from Irish-Jamaicans. Such photos might be enough to squelch concerns like mine...time will tell.

I wonder if the Finding Your Roots host on PBS, Henry Louis Gates, will take up this search? That would make a popular book, if she and Joe get elected.

The most interesting item I found was an article about the complicated legal world people of mixed race live in, here in the US. What a quagmire! Recommended reading. Here is the article.

At this moment I am helping a man of 88 complete a book he has written about his life. He is the son of a US slave. This is only possible through a quirk of his father being born near the end of the Civil War and, at a very old age, having a baby with a young wife. (We don’t know for sure whether there are other children of slaves still alive who are older.)

”US slave” is a rather disconcerting thought, do you agree? We don’t often see those two words together. As the author points out in a radio interview, however, slavery in the US was not “a long time ago.” Fewer than a handful of generations. (In fact, some claim it still exists...) 

In the book exercise, I learned about African-American roles in building the railroads, the Alaska Highway, and settlements for freed blacks. What has been most interesting for me is that, in following up on questions the author had about the treatment of freed blacks and their descendants in specific instances, I was able to confirm some of the alleged mistreatment, yet in a few cases I had to inform him that his preconceptions were not entirely accurate. 

It’s a murky world out there, and stories and claims are passed down on all sides. If our history books were accurate and complete, the stories would undoubtedly be more shocking than we could imagine — and unacceptable to a lot of the US population.

Kamala’s ancestry will undoubtedly be only one of her attributes that gets reviewed, debated, used, appropriated, misappropriated, corrupted, shredded. The only sure thing is that the opposition will do its best to take her down. She is a feisty campaigner, and I believe that she just might be up to the challenge.

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