Fox News host Tucker Carlson argued Tuesday night that there was nothing racist about Donald Trump Jr.’s recent tweet about Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a birtherism-style parsing of the California lawmaker and 2020 candidate’s ethnic background.
The concern was valid, Carlson contended, because CNN host Don Lemon had made the same point months ago.
Carlson opened the discussion by attacking the Democratic presidential candidates for discussing “all race, all the time,” claiming that Americans don’t want that and would prefer to hear about “jobs and security and fairness.” (Carlson made the claim about one minute into an eight-minute segment dedicated to Harris’ race.)
The Fox News host then turned his attention to Harris’ ethnic background.
“Kamala Harris’ base […]? Young, well-educated white liberals, affluent white voters,” Carlson said. “In fact, many black voters appear skeptical of Kamala Harris. One of them recently tweeted that Harris’ life story doesn’t bear much resemblance to that of most African Americans. Her parents were from India and Jamaica. Donald Trump Jr. retweeted that observation, and for that, CNN denounced him as a terrifying racist.”
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Harris has in fact nearly caught up to front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden following the first round of primary debates last month, making significant gains with black voters; Biden lost 17% support from black Democratic voters, down to 31%, and Harris gained 16% support from black voters, up to 27%.
The Trump Jr. tweet to which Carlson was referring was first posted by the president’s son last week. The younger Trump retweeted a post from Ali Alexander, a conservative commentator, who claimed that Harris was “*not* an American Black” because “she is half Indian and half Jamaican.”
Trump Jr. quoted the tweet, adding above it, “Is this true? Wow.”
The president’s son later deleted the tweet. He has since tried to argue that he was simply unaware that Harris was half Indian.
Several of Harris’ primary opponents came to her defense, arguing that any attempt to litigate the legitimacy of her racial experience was comparable to the “Birtherism” myths that plagued President Barack Obama, which President Donald Trump helped reinforce.
Carlson on Tuesday claimed there was nothing wrong with questions about Harris’ race. To justify his position, he shared a clip of CNN’s Don Lemon engaging in a similar — albeit distinctly different — discussion with White House reporter April Ryan back in February.
“We think you have a right to see it and you can decide for yourself if Don Lemon is also an anti-black racist,” Carlson insisted.
In the exchange, Lemon notably rejected any attempt to claim Harris “isn’t black enough” or hadn’t had experience as a black American. The question he humored at the time was whether the separate term “African American” was an accurate descriptor given neither of Harris’ parents or other descendants grew up in the United States.
As DiversityInc’s Keka Araujo explained when Lemon’s and Ryan’s exchange first aired, there is a movement among some U.S.-born black people to distinguish themselves from others as “American descendants of slavery” (ADOS). Araujo argued that this attempt to create a national identity was a “fallacy” because it negated the fact that the entire Western Hemisphere consisted of “The Americas.”
Nevertheless, what Lemon was humoring in the exchange Carlson played Tuesday night was still a debate among black Americans regarding heritage and the language of identity. Alexander’s tweet, by contrast, tried to negate Harris’ experience of having been perceived as black throughout her life.
Carlson also invited Rob Smith from conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA to make a similar point. “She was born in America to two immigrant parents,” Smith said. “She’s a black American, but she’s not exactly African American, right?”
Smith claimed that, by talking about her experiences being bused to a white school as a child, as Harris did in the debate, the senator was supposedly trying to “muddy the waters” to “pretend that she comes from the Jim Crow lineage or the lineage of slaves, which she does not come from.”
Harris has experienced racism and discrimination because she has been perceived as black and openly identifies as such. A debate within the black community about the authenticity of her race and heritage comes from a personal place. Trump Jr.’s and Carlson’s thoughts about Harris’ ethnic make-up, by contrast, are rooted mostly in racism.
“Am I wrong for not caring at all who Kamala Harris’ parents are?” Carlson asked Tuesday, in an attempt to defend his point. “Talk about irrelevant. I care about what she’s done.”