A viral meme uses erroneous claims about Sen. Kamala Harris’ schooling and race to accuse the Democratic presidential candidate of “lies.”
In a numbered list, the meme wrongly asserts the 2020 presidential candidate has been untruthful about her race and about her schooling in Berkeley, California. It also accuses her of lying about the music she listened to in college.
We’ll first start by addressing the false claim that Harris “wasn’t in berkley [sic] during segregation..she was in school in Canada at that time.”
Harris has talked about her experience being bused to school in Berkeley, California, as part of the school’s integration efforts — including at the June 27 Democratic presidential debate.
“And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”
As we wrote previously, Harris attended Thousand Oaks Elementary School starting in 1970, according to her campaign. A Berkeley Public Schools spokesman, Charles Burress, said in an email to FactCheck.org that while the district has “not been able to locate any student enrollment records from that pre-digital time showing the students who attended Thousand Oaks Elementary School then,” the district “has no reason to doubt her account, or the accounts of others who attended school with her.”
Burress also pointed to a photo of Harris’ class at the school that the senator published in her book, “The Truths We Hold.”
It’s worth noting for clarity that while Harris said in the debate that she was “part of the second class to integrate her public schools,” she joined that class, or cohort, in 1970 for the first grade and, therefore, the third year of the busing program.
“All Berkeley elementary schools were integrated through an innovative two-way busing plan, which was implemented voluntarily by our district beginning in 1968,” Berkeley Public Schools says on its website. “Kamala Harris joined first grade in 1970, which means she joined a cohort that had entered kindergarten in the second year of the busing program, in 1969.”
A 2009 report co-authored by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley Law School and UCLA’s Civil Rights Project notes that the district’s 14 elementary schools in the early 1960s were attended by students from their largely segregated neighborhoods, which resulted in “de facto” school segregation.
Although a “voluntary” busing program was initially put into place, the district found that “non-white students bore the burden of busing.” In January 1968, the school board approved a new system with “four attendance zones.” That desegregation plan was implemented in September 1968 and, during the first year, 3,500 out of 9,000 elementary school students were bused.
Harris did eventually move with her family to Canada — but not until 1976, when she was in middle school, her Senate office told us previously. In her book, Harris also writes about being a 12-year-old in middle school when her mother decides to relocate to Montreal for a job opportunity.
The meme also questions Harris’ race: Harris “says she is black but she has no black parents, Father = jamaican, Mother = Indian.”
That subject was recently highlighted when President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., shared a tweet with a similar claim, before deleting it.
In a February interview with a morning radio show called “The Breakfast Club,” Harris addressed such questions about the “legitimacy” of her blackness. “I think they don’t understand who black people are,” she said. “Because if you do, if you walked on Hampton’s campus, or Howard’s campus or Morehouse, or Spelman or Fisk, you would have a much better appreciation for the diaspora, for the diversity, for the beauty in the diversity of who we are as black people. So I’m not gonna spend my time trying to educate people about who black people are.”
That same interview is also what prompted the meme’s last claim — that Harris “said she was smoking weed in college, listening to music that wasn’t even recorded yet.”
During her conversation with hosts DJ Envy and Charlamagne Tha God, Harris admitted that she smoked marijuana in college. But video of the interview shows that Harris’ response regarding music isn’t clear-cut.
“What do you listen to because I know she has to go — so what does Kamala Harris listen to?” Envy asked.
Charlamagne quickly interjected, “What were you listening to when you was high? What was on? What song was playing?”
Envy: “Was it Snoop?”
Harris responded: “Oh my goodness. Oh yeah, definitely Snoop, Tupac.”
Many interpreted her response to mean that she listened to those artists while in college — which wouldn’t have been possible. Harris graduated from Howard University in 1986 and from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in 1989. Snoop Dogg’s first album was released in 1993; Tupac’s debut studio album was in 1991.
But Harris’ campaign countered that the candidate was responding to the original question posed by Envy: “What do you listen to because I know she has to go — so what does Kamala Harris listen to?”
Her national press secretary, Ian Sams, shared the clip on Twitter and said, “@djenvy asked what she listened to. @cthagod made a pot joke. Then she answered @djenvy’s question. This really isn’t that complicated. Just watch.”
We’ll let readers determine what to make of the exchange.
Allen, Kirsten. Deputy national press secretary, Kamala Harris 2020 campaign. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 3 Jul 2019.
Burress, Charles. Public information officer, Berkeley Unified School District. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 3 Jul 2019.
Chavez, Lisa and Frankenberg, Erica. “Integration Defended: Berkeley Unified’s Strategy to Maintain School Diversity.” University of California, Berkeley Law School. Sep 2009.
“Dr. Shyamala G. Harris.” Obituary. Legacy.com. 22 Mar 2009.
“The History of Integration in Berkeley Elementary Schools and Senator Harris.” Press release, Berkeley Public Schools. 1 Jul 2019.
“Kamala Harris Talks 2020 Presidential Run, Legalizing Marijuana, Criminal Justice Reform + More.” Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM. YouTube. 11 Feb 2019.
Kimelman, Jeremia. “Full transcript: 2019 Democratic debate Night Two, sortable by topic.” NBC News. 28 Jun 2019.
Orenstein, Natalie. “Did Kamala Harris’ Berkeley childhood shape the presidential hopeful?” Berkeleyside.com. 24 Jan 2019.
Sams, Ian (@IanSams). “The rightwing is so desperate to attack @KamalaHarris they’re trying to make Reefergate happen. @djenvy asked what she listened to. @cthagod made a pot joke. Then she answered @djenvy’s question. This really isn’t that complicated. Just watch.” Twitter. 12 Feb 2019.
Spencer, Saranac Hale. “Sen. Harris Didn’t ‘Lie’ About Integration.” FactCheck.org. 13 Jul 2018.