Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s running mate represents a large and vibrant Black diaspora whose influence is growing in the United States. And this is precisely what irritates President Donald Trump.
A crucial step has just been taken in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3: Democratic nominee Joe Biden has finally chosen Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate on the ticket.
This choice is not surprising, as the senator from California was among the big favorites for this coveted position. She brings together many qualities: She is a woman (a sine qua non), Black (with a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, she defines herself as such), a centrist Democrat but attentive to the demands of the left wing of the party; very comfortable on TV and a good debater (which will come in handy against Mike Pence).
Her few weaknesses — an average campaign during the Democratic primaries, a bittersweet exchange with Biden during a televised debate, and a record as a Californian prosecutor, which raises questions at a time when America’s policing culture is in the hot seat — didn’t ultimately weigh heavily on the choice, and the Democratic camp unanimously welcomed her selection.
From a sociological point of view, Harris perfectly represents the new wave of migration from Asia and the Caribbean that transformed American society at the end of the 1960s. In the 20th century, there were many political figures of Caribbean descent: Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael, Shirley Chisholm, Colin Powell and others.
Harris’s mother, who was from India, raised her two daughters to value their Black identity, and the senator has never denied this heritage. “I was born Black and I’ll die Black and I am proud of it. And I am not gonna make any excuses for it, for anybody, because they don’t understand,” she confided in a 2019 interview.
In fact, being Black in the United States refers to a very large diaspora that includes those who have African ancestors, or are African themselves. This is not the same as being “African American,” an identity that refers to those whose ancestors were slaves on American soil.
Just like former President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, Harris is part of a vibrant diasporic Black world whose influence is growing in the United States. This may have caused some Black Americans to gnash their teeth, those who resent that the ones who reach, or are able to reach, the highest positions are from the diaspora rather than from the African American world, strictly speaking, but these discordant voices are very much in the minority.
In general, Black Americans overwhelmingly endorse the choice of Harris, judging by reactions from editorial writers, social media and press reports. The next polls are expected to confirm this good will.
A Reassuring Ticket
Among the white population, Harris is also popular. She is a woman, which should bolster the Democratic lead among female voters. Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump won 53% of the white woman vote, despite his uninhibited male chauvinism.
This is expected to be different in November, for reasons that have to do with the way Trump has handled the health crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement, which enjoys majority support.
While voters loyal to Trump will not change their mind, it is not enough for the incumbent president to be reelected. In the critical states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, an overwhelming majority of white women are now Democrats.
In usually conservative states like Texas or Georgia, moderately Republican women could make a difference, by voting Biden-Harris, an ultimately reassuring ticket.
On the Republican side, the response to Harris was immediate. Without fear of contradicting themselves, Trump and his friends denounced Harris’ alleged “leftism” while lambasting her actions as an uncompromising prosecutor.
More venomously, Trump questioned Harris’s right to run for vice president. Certainly, the California native is older than 35 (satisfying the first legal condition), but Trump questioned whether she was really born in the United States (satisfying the second condition). The question is absurd, since the senator was born in Oakland, California, and it makes no difference where her parents were born.
But Trump wants to instill doubt, just as he did with Obama. Along with other people who were outraged, Trump questioned his predecessor’s birthplace, despite the birth certificate Obama presented to quash the rumors.
In fact, in Trump’s eyes, a Black man or a Black woman cannot legitimately aspire to the presidential office because they are not quite American. The president’s vituperations attack not only the political choices of his opponents, but also their “Americanness,” when they are not white.
In this, Trump is strongly reminiscent of the racist governors of the Deep South in the 1960s. He tolerates Blacks only when they stay in their place and don’t dare question the social and racial hierarchy.
If defeated next November, Trump will have to concede to Obama’s former vice president, who chose a Black woman as his own vice president — the horror! We understand, therefore, why his aggressiveness has increased tenfold. His angry tweets don’t just target what Biden and Harris are up to, but what they stand for.
Pap Ndiaye is a French historian of Senegalese descent and professor at Sciences Po Paris.
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