A birther-style attack against Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination failed to take hold after legions of her online supporters — including most of her political opponents — rushed to denounce social media postings challenging her legitimacy to speak as a black American.
Harris spoke passionately about racial issues during last week’s Democratic debate, and since then a misguided series of social media posts began sprouting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter suggesting that her parentage — Harris’ mother was Tamil Indian and her father is Jamaican — disqualified her from the community of black people in the United States.
At one point in last week’s debate, Harris interrupted crosstalk on stage, demanding to be heard as “the only black person on this stage” during a heated discussion of racial justice policy.
At another point, Harris described her feelings confronting racism as a child. “Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents said she couldn’t play with us because … we were black.”
Harris’s comments prompted Ali Alexander, an iconoclastic figure who is popular in both alt-right and black social media circles, to send out a tweet declaring that Harris isn’t an “American Black.”
Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican.
I'm so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It's disgusting. Now using it for debate time at #DemDebate2?
These are my people not her people.
— Ali Alexander (@ali) June 28, 2019
“Kamala Harris is implying she is descended from American Black Slaves,” Alexander’s tweet stated. “She’s not. She comes from Jamaican Slave Owners. That’s fine. She’s not an American Black. Period.”
Adding to the circus of confusion, Donald Trump Jr., retweeted Alexander’s post and asked “Is this true? Wow.”
Given his family’s role in spreading false accounts during the run-up to the 2008 presidential nomination that then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, Trump Jr.’s, tweet fueled speculation that the White House may be revising the birtherism gambit to stop Harris’s campaign.
Almost immediately a series of messages from trolling bot accounts began spewing questioned whether Harris is actually a black American. The speed and uniformity of language in the postings raised suspicions that the attacks were coordinated, similar to those that federal intelligence and Senate investigators found to have been produced by Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Indeed, reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee by independent researchers, showed that Moscow attempted to exploit racial feelings using social media postings directed at black Americans.
“The most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted Black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets,” according to findings presented to Senate investigators by researchers from New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research LLC.
Judging by the reactions over the weekend, black Americans clapped back on social media, rejecting any efforts to create racial dissension among black voters toward Harris.
Senator #KamalaHarris is Black + Indian.
She no less Black + no less Indian.
Why is this so hard to understand in 2019?
Am I surprised by the racist rhetoric going around trying to take away her blackness? No. Because this is America.
She a Black + Indian woman. pic.twitter.com/gcK3Pn9d5k
— Wilsar™ 🇸🇱 (@CallMeWilsar) June 30, 2019
Harris’ rivals for the Democratic nomination joined in the parade of denunciations against the overt and clumsy smear campaign.
No less than former Vice President Joe Biden, who as Harris’s front-running rival for the party’s presidential nomination, led the pushback of outraged reactions to the postings.
In an ironic twist, Biden defended Harris, who had raised her political image during the debate by calling out Biden for his bragging about working well with white supremacists and opposing federal support for busing as a young senator in the 1970s.
Nevertheless, the former vice president rushed to Harris’s defense, calling the attack on his opponent “disgusting” and comparing it to what Barack Obama enduring in his successful presidential campaign.
The same forces of hatred rooted in 'birtherism' that questioned @BarackObama's American citizenship, and even his racial identity, are now being used against Senator @KamalaHarris. It’s disgusting and we have to call it out when we see it. Racism has no place in America.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 29, 2019
Other hopefuls for the Democratic nomination followed suit, offering their own repulsion at the effort to promote a birtherism campaign against Harris.
Donald Trump Jr. is a racist too. Shocker. https://t.co/cy0N6fUseX
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 29, 2019
The attacks against @KamalaHarris are racist and ugly. We all have an obligation to speak out and say so. And it’s within the power and obligation of tech companies to stop these vile lies dead in their tracks.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 29, 2019
These troll-fueled racist attacks on Senator @KamalaHarris are unacceptable. We are better than this (Russia is not) and stand united against this type of vile behavior.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) June 29, 2019
The attack on @KamalaHarris is racist and we can't allow it to go unchecked. We have a responsibility to call out this birtherism and the continued spread of misinformation.
— Tim Ryan (@TimRyan) June 29, 2019
The coordinated smear campaign on Senator @KamalaHarris is racist and vile. The Trump family is peddling birtherism again and it’s incumbent on all of us to speak out against it.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) June 29, 2019
The presidential competitive field is stronger because Kamala Harris has been powerfully voicing her Black American experience. Her first-generation story embodies the American dream. It’s long past time to end these racist, birther-style attacks. https://t.co/x5Wdx8DKr8
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) June 29, 2019