The writer and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston is credited with once saying “all my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” The phrase, now fairly common, refers to the fact that those individuals who share racial or ethnic similarities (like skin tone) are not necessarily united as family or comrades in a unified struggle. Unfortunately, Black Americans continue to learn this lesson on grand political stages. Two such examples are Justice Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court and, more recently, Ben Carson’s appointment as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration.

Now, the selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as the vice-presidential nominee for the Democratic ticket raises many questions about the limits of perceiving political leaders as “skinfolk” and how expectations of kinship with Black communities runs counter to the possibilities of accountability.

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