The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) urge contextualized and comprehensive news coverage around the racial identity of Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris.
The proper way of characterizing someone’s racial or ethnic background, particularly when that background is of national interest, is a complex matter of identity and culture. The question has emerged again with the selection of Harris.
AAJA and SAJA urge newsrooms to be mindful in their language of Harris’ multifaceted racial identity and the ways she has described her own upbringing and background.
Her mother was from India and her father was from Jamaica. Harris was born in California.
In her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” Harris wrote that she identified as Black while growing up: “My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”
Harris has also publicly embraced her Indian descent, identified as an Indian American, and described herself as being of South Asian descent. In her Senate bio, she also describes herself as “South Asian-American,” a less common term.
“Asian American” is an accurate and encompassing term to describe Harris, as it applies to those from the continent of Asia, including the subcontinent of India.
Harris is the first woman of color nominated for a presidential ticket by a major party. That includes being the first Black woman, first Asian American woman, first South Asian woman and first Indian American woman to be nominated for a presidential ticket by a major party. She is the fourth woman in U.S. history to be a nominee for the presidential ticket of a major party.
We advise news organizations to consider the point of the story as well as the target audience when writing headlines and articles about the groundbreaking nature of Harris’ candidacy.
Over the coming weeks, AAJA and SAJA will work to provide more guidance and conversation on this subject. In the meantime, here is some background reading to help inform the reporting and writing about her:
The Other Kamala: Kamala Harris and the History of South Asian America, South Asian American Digital Archive
Kamala Harris’s 2009 interview with Aziz Haniffa and her 2018 speech at Pratham New York Gala