While the personal is always, if not in everyway, political; the political, by definition, should rarely be, personal.
In other words, ‘identity -’ and ‘cultural politics’ go badly wrong precisely because the conflicts they are meant to negotiate are waged on the socially insufficient and far too narrow grounds of the personal. They function as they do because of cultural differences, not similarities. And no doubt, such cultural differences are crucially important, in the realm of the personal.
In the realm of the political, however, where they are easily captured by ideologically narrow strains of power, ‘differences’ become bent to agendas determined by cultural identities not their own, and thereby lend themselves to furthering causes based on alliances of sameness of some sort that may actually be opposed to the cultural commitments to non-alliance around which they form socially.
In the context of Kamala Harris’s complex heritages, we have a situation like this:
“I think as an Indian American, what would be the most helpful thing is if she is a very good vice president,” said Shareen Punian, who held a fundraiser for Harris during the 2010 campaign for California attorney general. “That integrates us as Indians into the broader American community, and we don’t have to be singled out as being different.”
Punian at first glance suggests that she wishes to eschew being identified through cultural difference, desiring to be ‘integrated’ and not ‘singled out’. At second glance, however, she is unwilling to abandon her identity politics, as witnessed by her easy to miss clause, ‘as Indians’. She wishes to be integrated, to not be singled out as different; in other word, to be identified as “American”.
The Jesse Jackson hyphen, as in Indian-American, has been meant to accomplish the contradictory subjective position Punian desires – Indian and American, yet not different but part of a “broader” community of sameness, as American only.
For an actual human to live such a paradox, his/her/they would have to shed personal, cultural identity and embraced some conception of national identity. First and foremost, Punian would have to embrace being an American, and at least publically and politically, abandon the ‘as Indian’ stipulation.