A historic candidate of color appears on a national ticket and the Default Twitter Avatar People go wild sharing all the reasons they think that candidate is secretly foreign born and, thus, ineligible for high office. Sound familiar? The birthers are back, posting their claims about where Kamala Harris was born and what her parents’ background really was.
To set things straight from the beginning: Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California, on October 20, 1964. Even most (not all, of course) of the people sharing posts about her ineligibility to become president in the event something happened to Biden don’t seem to contest those facts.
One cut-and-paste post shared thousands of times on Facebook in recent days claims that she would not be able to become president because, it says, her parents were not citizens when she was born.
“Kamala cannot by constitutional law become President. She is an anchor baby, mother is from India, father is Jamaican, and neither were american citizens at time of her birth,” [SIC] the post’s text reads.
The term “anchor baby” does not appear in the Constitution. The phrase didn’t even exist until a Los Angeles Times article published in 1987. Its popular usage now dates to the immigration reform debates of around 2006, according to The Washington Post.
And while some politicians on America’s far right do believe that U.S. citizenship should not automatically be conferred as a birthright, as it stands now, it is. Further, Article Two merely dictates that a person born after 1787 be a “natural born citizen” of the country, it says nothing about the citizenship of the individual’s parents.
Kamala Harris, like many Americans, is the product of a multicultural family of immigrants. Her mother, who traveled to the United States in 1958 to complete a master’s degree at UC Berkeley, was the daughter of an Indian civil servant who spent some of his career in Zabmia.
“It was a big deal,” Harris’s uncle told the Los Angeles Times last year. “At that time, the number of unmarried Indian women who had gone to the States for graduate studies—it was probably in the low double digits. But my father was quite open. He said, ‘If you get admission, you go.’”
While studying at Berkeley, Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with American jazz records–and with a Jamaican economics student she met through her advocacy for civil rights, Donald Harris. The pair married in 1963.
The next year, the future candidate was born, very much on American soil. After her parents divorced in 1970, she and her younger sister, Maya, would travel at times with their mother to Zambia to visit family, and did spend some time in Canada as a teenager—none of which makes her ineligible for the vice presidency or presidency.
“She is a natural born citizen and there is no question about her eligibility to run,” Harvard University law professor and Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe told the A.P. “I can’t believe people are making this idiotic comment.”
So why do these viral posts and conspiracy theories manage to convince so many Americans? Many link questioning the “legitimacy” of Barack Obama and now of Kamala Harris to a discomfort with the idea that a non-white person could ascend to power.
“The whole birther movement was racist. That’s what the 99 percent believe,” Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in 2016. The Republican statesman then went on to describe Donald Trump as “a national disgrace and international pariah.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.