The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday March 22nd

Column: Kamala Harris and the failures of identity politics

<p>A mural of Vice President Kamala Harris in a parking lot near Franklin Street in Chapel Hill on Feb. 11, 2021</p>
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A mural of Vice President Kamala Harris in a parking lot near Franklin Street in Chapel Hill on Feb. 11, 2021

India is in crisis.

There have been over 200,000 new cases of COVID-19 recorded each day since April 15. The daily case number rose to more than 300,000 just one week later. On May 1, India recorded over 400,000 new cases — a global record. 

Thousands of people are dying every day; over 200,000 people in India are estimated to have lost their lives since the pandemic began. The true death toll is probably far higher than these official numbers, as local politicians may be colluding with hospital administrators to undercount the number of dead.

Hospitals are running out of beds and oxygen, and crematoriums are overwhelmed.

India is facing the deadly combination of a new variant of COVID-19, barely existent health care infrastructure and a ruling government that has completely abandoned its responsibility toward its citizens.

I am not exaggerating when I say every member of my family who lives there either has COVID-19 or is directly exposed to it, and nonresident Indians and members of the diaspora are probably facing a similar situation with their own families. 

As individuals, there is little we can do to help besides donating to on-the-ground organizations and incessantly worrying. In situations like these, we are supposed to look to our elected leaders for help — and look we did. We were met with disappointment.

After over two weeks of radio silence from when this brutal second wave began, the Biden administration finally announced that it was delivering $100 million worth of supplies on April 25. This aid policy only came about after sustained pressure from advocates and activists.

Additionally, the United States is currently sitting on tens of millions of doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which the Biden administration only agreed to share with the rest of the world on April 26. However, exactly which countries will be receiving these shots is as yet unknown.

Throughout these tumultuous weeks, Vice President Kamala Harris remained silent — despite her family's Indian roots.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, the Indian diaspora was thrilled to have a half-Indian woman representing us at the second-highest echelon of American politics. People were over the moon to see Harris wearing a sari, making masala dosa with Mindy Kaling and speaking Tamil on a national stage.

But aside from an impersonal Tweet after the administration had already announced it would send supplies, Harris did not offer a single word of sympathy or make any public statements about this crushing catastrophe until this past Saturday, when she said the coronavirus situation in India “is tragic.” 

(This is the “that sucks” of statements.)

This disaster shows that clearly, identity is not enough. The ability to make masala dosa and speak Tamil did not translate into any urgent desire to help the people of India. 

As an American first, Harris obviously has no obligation toward India or any other country. But as thousands of people have been suffering and dying in the country she so proudly claimed during the election, her silence during this crisis cut particularly deep.


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