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WASHINGTON: Within hours of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as a vice-presidential running mate, a “birther” controversy fueled by the right wing erupted in political circles, with questions about her eligibility for high office on account of her “foreign” parentage.
Unlike in the case of former President Barack Obama, who right-wing conspiracy theorists falsely claimed was born in Kenya, the question here is not whether Harris is US-born. It is established that she was born in Oakland, California (copies of her purported birth certificate are already floating online): the argument is that she is not eligible for the office of the vice-presidency and presidency because she is not a “natural born citizen” – she is an “anchor” child born to foreign parents.
“If crazy Joe cannot serve his full term, 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,” read one post promoting another birther controversy that is popular among racist white nationalists. And because the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution provides that “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States,” the argument goes that she is not eligible to run for Veep either.
The short answer of most constitutional experts is: Nonsense. The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment provides that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” And that is not dependent on their parents’ citizenship. As per the US Constitution, “To serve as president, one must be at least 35 years old, have been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years, and be a natural born citizen.”
While such “birther” issues have long been fodder for racist white nationalists, they have been mainstreamed in recent years with increasing ethnic diversification of America, including in the political sphere, where there are many people of Asian and African heritage rising quickly. President Trump, representative of the old European-origin order, himself vigorously questioned whether former President Barack Obama was born in the US, before eventually backing down after his birth certificate showed he was born in Hawaii. One lawmaker, former Congressman Steve King, has been proposing bills in Congress every year, for decades, to remove birthright citizenship.
In this instance, the issue was mainstreamed by Newsweek, a formerly reputed magazine that has been in terminal decline for some years and is dismissed as clickbait garbage by critics. It published a sly birtherism attack on Harris on Wednesday by John Eastman, who it turns out, ran unsuccessfully against Harris to be California Attorney General, losing the 2010 Republican primary.
“Dr. Eastman was focusing on a long-standing, somewhat arcane legal debate about the precise meaning of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. His essay has no connection whatsoever to so-called “birther-ism,” the racist 2008 conspiracy theory aimed at delegitimizing then-candidate Barack Obama by claiming, baselessly, that he was born not in Hawaii but in Kenya. We share our readers’ revulsion at those vile lies,” Newsweek said in its defence.
The racist white resentment at the rise of colored or mixed race individuals in public life and politics is fairly transparent and reveals itself in myriad ways in the current toxic political environment. Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson was among those who expressed worry that Kamala Harris would effectively become the President if Joe Biden wins (because of the perception in some quarters that he is old and frail), going on to mispronounce her name, and doubling down with “so what?” when he was corrected.

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