The Birthers Come For Kamala Harris

A new racist meme questioning Kamala Harris's background is circulating on the Internet.

California Senator Kamala Harris is the latest political candidate to be subjected to a ridiculous and ill-informed claim about her birth, and while this one doesn’t allege that she is ineligible to be President (at least not yet) it does have the same racist tinge to it that similar claims about former President Obama did:

A new iteration of Donald Trump’s racist and fallacious “birtherismattack on former President Barack Obama is suddenly surging on social media, this time against Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

The apparently bot-aided onslaught is claiming the senator doesn’t represent U.S. blacks because her father was born in Jamaica. Harris, an American of both Jamaican and Indian descent, was born in Oakland, California.

Donald Trump Jr.retweeted the original attack but later deleted it. Meanwhile, the president’s former campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson tried to discredit Harris another way, indicating she is not African enough to run as a minority presidential candidate. She tweeted that “while Obama is actually African-American — Harris is not,” even though people of African descent have lived in Jamaica for centuries.

The slam appeared Thursday night shortly after the Democratic presidential debate, where Harris had powerfully raised her own experiences being bused as a child in California to battle school desegregation 

The attack appeared to be launched by a self-described “black activist” identifying himself as “Ali Alexander” on an unverified Twitter account. He claimed in a video and tweet that Harris cannot represent the black experience in America because she has “no ancestors who suffered American Slavery, the Civil War, nor Jim Crow.”

Alexander is actually a far-right political operative and conspiracy theorist Ali Akbar, or Ali Abdul Razaq Akbar, whom Politico profiled last year as an “increasingly prominent pro-Trump supporter.” On the eve of the 2016 election, Robert Mercer donated $60,000 to a PAC that Alexander advises, Politico reported. 

Akbar, posing as Alexander, boasted that his tweets “went viral.” In fact, his message was nearly instantaneously picked up word for word and disseminated by several Twitter accounts that have been identified as bots, BuzzFeed reported.

Social media researcher Caroline Orr pointed out that the original tweet also drew in other attacks falsely claiming Harris wasn’t born in the U.S.

These claims about Harris echo the right-wing lie against Obama — pitched repeatedly by Trump — that the first black U.S. president was born in Africa and had no legal right to be an American president. Similarly, Alexander is saying Harris has no right to represent black people in the U.S. because her father was foreign-born.

Harris has experienced similar attacks questioning her race, her racial experiences and her citizenship. In an interview early this year, Harris said: “This is the same thing they did to Barack, this is not new to us.” She added that “powerful voices” are “trying to sow hate and division among us. We need to recognize when we’re being played.”

Harris aide Lily Adams ripped Donald Trump Jr.’s retweet of Alexander’s attack to The New York Times on Friday. “This is the same type of racist attack his father used to attack Barack Obama,” she said. “It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”

Trump Jr. has since deleted the retweet in question, but its source, a far-right “activist” who presently goes by the name “Ali Alexander,” and has a long history of criminal fraud and other crimes, is touting the fact that the tweet went viral and “Alexander” continues to defend his absurd assertion that the fact that Harris’s father is Jamaican means that she is not a “real” African-American. It is as absurd a claim as the ones that questioned the citizenship of Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, and, most recently, Congresswoman and Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. In each of these cases, the claims made by those spreading the conspiracy theory were clearly false, something that it would have easy to figure out with just a momentary look at the evidence and relevant law.

The talk about Harris’s background, of course, has the same racist background that the talk about Obama not being a citizen or being a “secret Muslim” did. It’s meant to undermine her legitimacy and to divert attention from other, more relevant facts. Granted, Harris’s background is unique in that she has a Jamaican father and a mother from India, but that doesn’t make her any less American and, given the fact that Jamaica itself was populated by people from Africa in addition to its native population, it doesn’t make her any less “black”either.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Kamala Harris, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Trump Jr. has since deleted the retweet in question,

    This is a good opportunity for genomics research to determine once and for all the gene for “incapable of learning from past experience.”

    5
  2. Terrye Cravens says:

    I don’t like Harris. But I am no birther. I do think she is a demagogue. But any questions about her race are just silly. But hey, Trump even questioned Ted Cruz’s nationality and race, so this is no surprise.

    I think her attack on Biden was underhanded. Biden is not a segregationist and she knows it. Biden was not even in the Senate when she says she was bussed. He did support compulsory bussing when the segregation was due to government policies or when local communities supported it. People hated mandatory bussing. There were riots. According to Gallup at the time support for compulsory bussing was in the single digits. The issue is divisive. It will not help Democrats to remind people of it today.

    I do think that Trump would beat her…not just because of the racism of his supporters, but because a lot of people who might vote for someone like Biden even Buttigeig would not vote for her or someone they think is too far out of their idea of mainstream. She has to win in places like Wisconsin and PA..winning 65% of the vote in California won’t get her in the White House.

    This birther stuff will backfire on them.

    1
  3. Gustopher says:

    She might not be what I first think of as African-American, but I’ve still heard her referred to as a n-clang b-clang, so she still has that classic African-American experience.

    This is going to be a very nasty campaign.

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  4. wr says:

    It’s funny how to these people the very same politicians who are not black enough to call themselves black are always black enough to be called n$gger.

    14
  5. Guarneri says:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzz

    Slow news day….

    1
  6. Keviin says:

    Hillary is the one that started the Obama not being born in the US.

    1
  7. Kevin,

    Another conservative lie.

    26
  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzz

    Says our increasingly open resident racist.

    11
  9. Scott F. says:

    @Terrye Cravens:
    From you:

    …because a lot of people who might vote for someone like Biden even Buttigeig would not vote for her or someone they think is too far out of their idea of mainstream.

    From Kamala Harris’ website:

    As U.S. Senator, Kamala introduced or co-sponsored legislation to provide sweeping tax cuts for the middle class, address the high cost of rent, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, make higher education tuition-free for the vast majority of Americans, reform the cash bail system, protect the legal rights of refugees and immigrants, and expand access to affordable, quality health care with Medicare for All.

    Take a look at Harris’ record and she’s not that far out of the mainstream for a Democrat in 2019. What she is… is a woman and a person of color.

    From you again:

    I don’t like Harris.

    You could have ended your comment right there and been perfectly clear about what you are bringing to the conversation.

    12
  10. Kari Q says:

    @Scott F.:

    Take a look at Harris’ record and she’s not that far out of the mainstream for a Democrat in 2019. What she is… is a woman and a person of color.

    Yep. If she was a white guy named “John Miller” the criticism would be that “John Miller” is too moderate for the Democratic mainstream.

    8
  11. Gustopher says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    I do think that Trump would beat her…not just because of the racism of his supporters, but because a lot of people who might vote for someone like Biden even Buttigeig would not vote for her or someone they think is too far out of their idea of mainstream.

    Gay might be too far out of their idea of the mainstream too.

    4
  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    absurd assertion that the fact that Harris’s father is Jamaican means that she is not a “real” African-American.

    Black people aren’t fooled. Hell not even white people are fooled and a whole bunch of them just plain and simple ain’t too bright.

    @Terrye Cravens:

    He did support compulsory bussing when the segregation was due to government policies or when local communities supported it.

    Than why do I keep reading quotes from him where he states he was only in favor of voluntary bussing?

    People hated mandatory bussing. There were riots.

    Yeah, I remember those riots, in fact I was there for one them, and it was about voluntary bussing, which never would have happened without the threat of compulsory bussing. What white people hated was that despite their move out to the suburbs, the higher taxes they were paying, the longer commutes they were driving, etc etc, they still couldn’t keep the little pickaninnies away from their precious little bundles.

    Joe Biden deserved every bit of what he got from KH because he is playing it too cute by half and trying to have it both ways.

    You’re not a racist Joe, stop playing up to them for votes.

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  13. JKB says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Only to the extent that Hillary’s actual fingerprints weren’t found on the claim. Just those of her supporters

    Philip Berg, a former deputy Pennsylvania attorney general and a self-described “moderate to liberal” who supported Clinton, was among the first to file a lawsuit over Obama’s birth certificate. Berg’s suit was dismissed on grounds that he had no legal standing to file it.

    But one of the authors of the Politico story, Byron Tau, now a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, told FactCheck.org via email that “we never found any links between the Clinton campaign and the rumors in 2008.”

    The other coauthor of the Politico story, Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, previously told MSNBC during a 2013 interview that the conspiracy theories traced back to “some of [Hillary Clinton’s] passionate supporters.” But he said the theories did not come from “Clinton herself or her staff.”

    On March 19, 2007, then Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote a strategy memo to Clinton that identified Obama’s “lack of American roots” as something that “could hold him back.”

    Penn did not raise the birth certificate and is said to have also advised the “campaign” not raise the roots issue

    1
  14. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah, but he has the most important mainstream quality. Say you’re a Republican/conservative and you’re forced to choose; which one do you pick?
    a. gay white male
    b. black woman

    I think Buttegieg takes it.

    2
  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: I don’t know what you were attempting to prove, but I agree with you. Hillary’s campaign did not start the birther meme.

    Glad to see that’s finally settled. Whew!

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  16. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Of course there are 7000 videos available on YouTube of Donald Trump explicitly saying it into cameras. I agree with you and JKB that unlike Trump, there’s no evidence that Hillary had anything to do with it.

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  17. Gustopher says:

    @The abyss that is the soul of cracker: that’s easy, they’ll pick the Republican.

    Ok, disgruntled while working class, not particularly racist or bigoted, but the usual amount, and thinks both parties are a bunch of idiots…

    (I call this the TV Watching Dad demographic, which I predict will be this years Soccer Mom)

    Who do they pick?
    A) Trump
    B1) Gay McKinsey Guy That Won’t Shut Up About Generational Change
    B2) Black Woman Who Is Light Skinned But Seems A Little Sassy Or Is That Uppity

    I have no idea whether B1 or B2 is more appealing than A.

    And sadly, a lot of people pick who they want to see on TV for the next 4 years, because they don’t know enough about anything to balance children in cages against open borders.

    I still wish George Clooney would jump in the race.

    1
  18. An Interested Party says:

    It would be so perfect if this racist misogynistic trash’s presidency ends up between those of two multi-ethnic and multi-cultural presidents, one of whom is a woman…

    3
  19. Kylopod says:

    She tweeted that “while Obama is actually African-American — Harris is not,” even though people of African descent have lived in Jamaica for centuries.

    But there were people making precisely the same argument about Obama when he was president. They claimed that he was not a true “African American” since he was the son of a Kenyan immigrant rather than being the descendant of Africans brought to America as slaves (putting aside for the moment the discovery that his white mother is apparently descended from the first black slave in America), and that he lacked an understanding of the African American experience having been raised by, and spent most of his childhood around, white people.

    This is one of those situations where you can’t win. Black candidates will always have one group of people saying they’re too black and another saying they’re not black enough. Funny white candidates never face these sorts of criticisms regarding their race?

    8
  20. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Berg was well-known to be a fruitcake, and this was just one more example.

    If Berg == Hillary then I’m sure you won’t mind our linking Trump with those on the right who are similarly several forks short of a picnic basket….

    After all, goose == gander.

    3
  21. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod: From my lily white perspective, Obama was missing a chunk of the African-American experience — he had a sheltered and odd childhood. I just didn’t care whether he was black enough.

    Also, I think Birther bigotry got him up to speed with experiencing any racism he missed out on…

    Kamala Harris also has as much or more of the kid-of-immigrants experience as she does the African-American experience.

    Neither of them are the standard, expected African-American whose entire family has been here for 200 years, who has experienced the result of generations of discrimination, and whose grandparents remember life before the civil rights movement.

    But both of them are very American. Just not the type of American the racists are comfortable with — if your afraid of immigrants coming here and changing America, then Obama and Harris have to be terrifying. They are as terrifying as Italians were a hundred years ago.

    2
  22. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: It’s fair to point out that the experiences and backgrounds of candidates like Obama and Harris differ in some ways from those of the majority of African Americans. What is not okay is treating them as if that gives them no right to identify as African American, as if they’re somehow fraudulently co-opting an identity not their own.

    It’s true that African Americans, as a group, are united in part by their common history of slavery and Jim Crow. But that doesn’t mean their identity must exclude anyone without that history in their family, or anyone who didn’t have an upbringing among other African Americans (a category that would also apply to an adopted black kid raised by a white couple in a white neighborhood).

    The Baltimore Sun used to have a right-wing black columnist named Gregory Kane (no longer living) who was mostly a nutcase but every now and then said something surprisingly insightful. Around the time Tiger Woods was going around insisting he was not black but “Cablinasian” (a term he coined to highlight his many racial ancestries), Kane retorted that Woods should be given “the cab test”: “Stand him on a street corner in any large American city and have him hail a cab. If he gets one, he’s Cablinasian. If he doesn’t, he’s definitely black.”

    We can talk all day about how Harris or Obama are merely biracial or are more children-of-immigrants than “typical” African Americans who didn’t come from generations of discrimination in this country. At the end of the day, though, you can’t escape the fact that when most Americans look at them, they see a black person. Even that isn’t a perfect definition (it wouldn’t apply to people like Ben Jealous or Mariah Carey, for example), but it’s still true, it’s been true their entire lives, and they have had to deal with the consequences of it. That alone gives them all the right in the world to identify as what most Americans would unhesitatingly consider them to be anyway.

    10
  23. Tj says:

    @Doug Mataconis: look, I may be off base here but I think those lies aren’t from conservatives–they are from reactionaries. If you conservatives would better police your boundaries…

    1
  24. Ekares says:

    @Guarneri:

    Slow thinking and memory day for you, sir.

    1
  25. Monala says:

    @Kylopod: some on Twitter have pointed out that accepting these “not really black” standards (because someone is biracial or the child of immigrants) would eliminate many prominent African-Americans of the past. Like say, Frederick Douglass or Booker T. Washington, both of whom were half white. Or Malcolm X or Shirley Chisholm, both of whom were the children of immigrants.

    1
  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod:

    At the end of the day, though, you can’t escape the fact that when most Americans look at them, they see a black person.

    This. Always this. They walk into a store and security doesn’t walk up and ask, “Excuse me, do you have a white or Asian parent?” they just follow them.

    5
  27. JohnMcC says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @Kylopod: I’d thought of this topic but lacked the chutzpah to comment on an obviously fraught subject. Your contribution is well written. Thank you.

    1
  28. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Kylopod: Obama would have had issues with his background but he did the work after college living amongst and breaking bread with regular black people. His immersion was so thorough he sounded like your everyday black Baptist preacher everytime he hit the stump.
    Most black men with backgrounds similar to Obama come across as cornballs…unless they played a sport.

    This attack will go no where with Harris, there is no division to exploit between Jamaicans and american blacks like there are between Africans and American Blacks. My Uncle married a Jamaican woman. I love her as much as any blood aunt. I will say that Jamaican upper class people in America (can be) are very class oriented and snooty to people with titles and status. It a vestige of the UK culture conditioning on the island. Other than that…very high achieving, fun-loving, and hard working people. I wish some of that would rub off on a cross section of us natives.

    2
  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Jim Brown 32: One of the people in our local Toastmaster’s club in Japan was an ex-model from Jamaica (married to a Japanese). What we all noticed (she did as well) was her developing from someone totally shy in front of an audience, no matter how small, to someone you could plunk in front of an audience of 600 people and give a speech ex tempore.

    Toastmasters is badass. So was she.

    2
  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Monala: This “not really black” meme is really ironic considering that for so many years American culture has had the idea any “black blood” in your history at all makes you “black”. (Am thinking of the careful classifications Louisiana produced, of “quadroon” and “octoroon” labels and how there were rigorous rankings in society depending on how “black” your blood was.)

    However, I doubt that the Right actually believes that people like Ms. Harris and President Obama “aren’t really black.” They’re just looking for yet another argument to divide them off from African-Americans who are descended from slaves and say that the latter can’t identify with the former.

    (Heck, African-Americans are also from “immigrants”. It’s just that the immigration was much longer ago and was forced.)

    2
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Working class guy is not going to know what McKinsey is. Based on the working class guys I knew slinging boxes and sorting decayed fruit at the warehouse (watermelons were particularly nasty, I was glad when that biz went to drop shipping), I say he goes with the white guy, but only if he’s repulsed by Trump. It’s a close call–between Trump and gay guy. Any color woman, meh…

    Note: I’ll be 67 in 2 weeks, so working class guys may be more evolved than the ones I knew (but I doubt it).

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Hey! Watch it! My first generation Italian American dad was the first American-born member of our family exactly 100 years ago. (But I do know what you’re talking about. My dad used to sometimes reminisce about the school he went to having almost no white kids–they were all Slavs, Italians, Romas…)

  33. Harold says:

    People seem to dismiss the question of constitutional eligibility without much thought by calling such questions birtherism. There is substantial historic evidence as to the meaning of this term in the Constitution. Below is a sample.

    Natural Born Citizen
    Definition given on the floor of Congress, Representative John Bingham, father of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
    Reference – (Cong. Globe, 39th, 1st Sess., 1291 (1866))

    “I find no fault with the introductory clause, which is simply declaratory of what is written in the Constitution, that every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen; but, sir, I may be allowed to say further, that I deny that the Congress of the United States ever had the power or color of power to say that any man born within the jurisdiction of the United States, not owing a foreign allegiance, is not and shall not be a citizen of the United States.”

    Chief Justice Marshall’s dissent in the Venus case of 1814 had a quote from Vattel on the subject:

    “The whole system of decisions applicable to this subject, rests on the law of nations as its base. It is, therefore, of some importance to enquire how far the writers on that law consider the subjects of one power residing within the territory of another, as retaining their original character, or partaking of the character of the nation in which they reside.
    Vattel, who, though not very full to this point, is more explicit and more satisfactory on it than any other whose work has fallen into my hands, says, ‘the citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or indigenes, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. Society not being able to subsist and to perpetuate itself but by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights.”’

    https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/85070/the-venus-rae-master/

    The unanimous opinion in Minor v Happersett of 1875 written by Chief Justice Morrison Waite defined natural born citizen as follows:

    “The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.”

    https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/88998/minor-v-happersett/?q=minor+v+happersett

    In US v Wong Kim Ark of 1898 written by Associate Justice Horace Gray, Chief Justice Fuller’s dissent had this to say:

    “Considering the circumstances surrounding the framing of the Constitution, I submit that it is unreasonable to conclude that ‘natural-born citizen’ applied to everybody born within the geographical tract known as the United States, irrespective of circumstances; and that the children of foreigners, happening to be born to them while passing through the country, whether of royal parentage or not, or whether of the Mongolian, Malay or other race, were eligible to the Presidency,…”

    https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/94842/united-states-v-wong-kim-ark/?q=us+v+wong+kim+ark&type=o&order_by=score+desc&stat_Precedential=on

  34. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Just calling people racists, Michael, is the sign of a weak and tired mind. I have thought you were above that, but the past couple years have shown me differently.

    Who’s that woman on your arm
    All dressed up to do you harm
    And I’m hip to what she’ll do
    Give her just about a month or two…

  35. Kylopod says:

    @grumpy realist:

    This “not really black” meme is really ironic considering that for so many years American culture has had the idea any “black blood” in your history at all makes you “black”.

    These comments come from different sources. First, conservatives make bad-faith arguments designed to dress up their old-fashioned racism in their notion of “colorblindness.” Limbaugh got heavily into this during the Obama years, calling him “Halfrican American” and even once bizarrely insisting that he wasn’t black but an “Arab” who comes from the “Arab parts of Africa.” (Maybe that’s what that lady who confronted McCain had in mind.) The remarks quoted earlier by Katrina Pierson (herself a biracial woman who once referred to herself as a “half-breed”) are in that tradition, even though she treats Obama as legitimately black and Harris as not. Now that Obama’s out of office, he’s free to become a foil for any new candidate who come along whom the right wants to attack.

    But you also occasionally hear similar arguments from some blacks on the left. The “not black enough” meme against Obama was partly perpetuated by figures like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Even Don Lemon recently denied that Harris was a true “African American.” Meanwhile, some white liberals get caught up in the naive logic of “How can so-and-so be called black if they’re only 1/2 black?” A lot of well-meaning people don’t get that our reason for using racial classifications at all today isn’t their objective validity but their historic legacy–and Republicans cynically exploit that naivete to confuse the issue and hide their own thinly veiled racism.

    2