South Asian Activists Take a Critical Look at Kamala Harris

Many were quick to celebrate the vice presidential nomination of Kamala Harris, who became the first Black and South Asian woman to run on a major party’s ticket after Joe Biden announced that she would be his running mate last month. For them, Harris, a 55-year-old senator from California, would infuse some much-needed progressivism and diversity into a party that has long lacked both.

Yet organizers on the ground approached her record-breaking nomination with caution. Her record as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general has at times created an irreconcilable rift between establishment politicians and the demands of contemporary grassroots movements, most notably those rising up today under the Black Lives Matter banner to protest police brutality and mass incarceration.

Now, as protesters continue to demand an end to state violence against Black lives, where does Harris fit into the picture?

To reckon with this question, speaks with South Asian activists about Harris’s legacy. Below, Shahana Hanif, a candidate running for New York City Council in Brooklyn’s 39th District, and organizers from Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress (who requested to be quoted as a collective) reflect on the trajectory of Harris’s career, her historic nomination, identity politics, and why we must hold elected officials accountable.

Many have celebrated Kamala Harris’s vice presidential nomination as the first Black and South Asian woman running mate to appear on a major presidential ballot. Did her historic nomination resonate with you?

Shahana Hanif: Kamala Harris’s nomination as a Black and South Asian woman is symbolic for my Bangladeshi-Muslim parents. I’m running for New York City Council, and if elected, I will be our city’s first-ever South Asian Muslim woman elected in office. It’s important for my parents to see that my run is possible and that winning is possible too.

Organizers with BAPP: The picture of Kamala with her family that surfaced during her presidential campaign struck a chord with many South Asian Americans. That picture—with sari-clad family members in a sepia-toned photo—could have been pulled from any of our family albums. For many of us, though, her nomination was overshadowed by the crises our nation was facing. As the Bangladeshi-American community in NYC was decimated by COVID-19, with scores more on the brink of eviction, the potential election of a South Asian woman didn’t feel like a win for our community. Rather, one individual’s win with most of us largely left behind.

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