Posted in Behind the News

How we will identify Kamala Harris

, by John Daniszewski

The choice of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to join Joe Biden on their party’s presidential ticket to run against Donald Trump and Mike Pence was historic in many senses.

Harris is only the fourth woman to run on a major party ticket, after former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former vice presidential hopefuls Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin.

She is the first woman of color to appear on the ticket for either major party. She is the first woman of African Caribbean descent and the first woman of Asian descent. Her parents were immigrants: her mother from India and her father from Jamaica, the Caribbean island nation.

Why is The Associated Press identifying Harris as Black?

The reason is that Black is the identity that Harris herself has chosen.

In her first remarks as Biden’s running mate on Wednesday, Harris spoke of her mother’s roots but described herself as the “first Black woman” to be nominated for the vice presidency on a major party ticket.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, left, looks on as his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Shortly before Harris announced her presidential campaign in 2019, AP asked her advisers how she identified and was told she identified as Black. On Tuesday, hours before the announcement, AP again checked with her advisers and were told again that she identifies as Black.

According to AP style, a person’s race should be noted only when clearly relevant, such as in stories that involve significant, groundbreaking or historic events. Coverage of Harris’ selection as a vice presidential candidate falls into that category.

Since her selection, many Indian citizens, Indian Americans and Asian Americans have taken pride in Harris’s Indian roots when discussing her identity. AP’s stories about her also have noted her Indian heritage prominently.

However, AP generally allows people in its news stories to name and identify themselves, whether by gender, religion, ethnic group or race. In the case of Harris, she has chosen to identify herself foremost as a Black woman, and AP coverage will reflect her choice.

AP handled the question of former President Barack Obama’s racial identity in a similar way. His mother was white, and his father was African, and Obama identified as African American. AP identified him in stories as Black in accordance with his wishes, while also mentioning his racially mixed background when relevant.

If Harris changes how she wishes to be identified, for instance as Black and Asian, then AP would change its language to reflect that.