Oops! Kamala Harris might not be White, but is she the right kind of Black? A new acronym as crept into our jargon recently: ADOS. It stands for American Descendant of Slavery. Senator Harris is likely a descendent of slavery, but her Jamaican heritage would not earn her an ADOS membership card. Since Blacks are now trying to differentiate those whose ancestors came to America unwillingly from those who are recent immigrants, anxious to get into a free country, it will be interesting to see if anyone kicks up a fuss over Harris’ mix of Jamaican and Indian ancestry.
If anyone is in a position to understand racial hierarchies, it should be someone with Indian ancestry. Is there a country that is more fixated on a lingering caste system than India? As much as caste designations are illegal, they continue to be a pervasive fact of life in Indian society. Perhaps because of this, the ADOS folks will accept Harris, thinking that her Indian heritage will enable her to make fine distinctions as BIPOCs tease apart our population to settle scores.
Even American Indian heritage might have qualified her for this task. As money has poured into many reservations that are located strategically for casino earnings, tribes have been reversing previous efforts to add people to their tribal roles. (Tribes decide who is a member and who isn’t.) With a greater share of income coming from tribal businesses and a lesser share from government programs, it’s now more lucrative to have fewer people enrolled in the tribe.
As you might imagine, one focus of ADOS is reparations. Since it’s now popular to talk about reparations, it’s important to start winnowing down the list of who might qualify for any handouts. Clearly, people who are recent immigrants shouldn’t qualify for reparations, right? Hmm. Well, not if you assume that it’s only the legacy of slavery that has held Black people down.
But some people make the case that systemic racism continues to hold people down. Does this only affect ADOS folks, or are more recent African and Jamaican immigrants also affected by systemic racism? If so, then shouldn’t they also qualify for reparations? Or maybe systemic racism has a differential effect depending on country of origin as well as date of immigration. And what happens when one’s parents are a complicated mix of origin stories and dates of entry. How do we do the math on that?
If ADOS folks point to Harris’ tenure as a prosecutor, unfairly locking up BIPOCs, they might be able to avoid having to criticize her for her lack of ADOS bonafides. But that will spoil the fun. I love it when people start parsing who’s in and who’s out of which group. High school all over again.