“I was born black. I will die black.”
CNN anchor Don Lemon on Wednesday challenged Sen. Kamala Harris’ African-American credentials.
“Jamaica’s not America,” he said, referring to her father’s native country.
Lemon made the remarks on his show, “CNN Tonight,” as part of a panel discussion about Harris’ blackness. The topic was inspired by the California Democrat’s appearance Monday on “The Breakfast Show” radio program, which saw her confront questions about her racial “legitimacy” that have been raised by some African-Americans.
“I’m black, and I’m proud of being black,” declared Harris, who is running for president. “I was born black. I will die black, and I’m not going to make excuses for anybody because they don’t understand.”
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On the CNN panel, Lemon clashed with fellow black journalist April Ryan over whether Harris had the right to make such claims. Echoing a defense that Harris herself gave, Ryan suggested that the candidate was facing the same kind of divisive rhetoric that former President Barack Obama had on the campaign trail.
“She is a black woman!” Ryan insisted.
“OK, that’s fine. I agree with that,” Lemon said, raising his voice. “But is she African-American?”
“No one is trying to take anything away from her,” he continued. “All she had to do was say: ‘I am black, but I’m not African-American.’ That’s it.”
Ryan countered that Harris could very well have African heritage since her father immigrated to the United States from Jamaica, where most residents are the descendants of slaves shipped over from that continent.
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“When she goes down her lineage, many Africans landed in Jamaica and all these other Caribbean islands. So she could indeed be African-American, mixed with other races,” Ryan said.
But Lemon apparently wasn’t willing to accept Harris into the tribe unless she could prove that her progenitors suffered from institutional racism inside the borders of United States.
“Jamaica’s not America. Jamaica’s not America. Jamaica’s not America,” Lemon repeated. “Jamaica did not come out of Jim Crowe. I’m just saying.”
Flustered, Ryan shouted: “She is a black woman! … She was born here!”
Ryan then tried to bring up Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, presumably to argue that he gets to be considered Hispanic-America just because his father is Cuban.
But Lemon cut her off.
“I’m not talking about Ted Cruz. This is not about Ted Cruz. You’re changing the subject,” he said.
“I’m not changing the subject,” Ryan protested. “She is a black woman. I don’t know what you want me –”
“This has nothing to do with Ted Cruz,” Lemon repeated.
“OK,” Ryan finally said, scowling.
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Lemon may have won the argument. But what was he really arguing for? The anchor seemed to be dismissing Harris’ identification as African-American because her progenitors weren’t oppressed by the exact same people as his.
A leading exponent of this view has lately been American Descendants of Slaves, which presents itself as an interest group for Americans whose African ancestors were enslaved in the United States. Under the Twitter hashtag “ADOS,” members of the movement have essentially accused Harris of appropriating their identity.
Several of their criticisms came up in “The Breakfast Club” interview, including that Harris’ parents are immigrants (her Indian-born mother largely raised her), that she spent her high-school years in Canada, and that she is married to a white man.
Although Harris rejected the premise that such details were relevant to her blackness, she nonetheless she pointed out that she was born in Oakland, California, and had spent the great majority of her life in the United States. Regarding her husband, she said that she “just happened” to fall in love with a caucasian.
Presidential candidates have long been scrutinized for their “authenticity,” and liberals who have deemed Harris lacking in this regard are not alone. Conservatives, too, have mocked her for her forced-seeming black cultural references – including her shout-outs to pot-smoking and rap music on Monday.
But only today’s identitarian left could fault a black female Democratic presidential candidate for not being the right kind of minority.