Esquire, the Bangor Daily News, and the Chicago Sun Times, each falsely claimed that Kamala Harris is the first person of color elected Vice-President of the United States. Charles Curtis, a Native American, was the first person of color elected Vice-President of the United States.
BACKGROUND: In November 2020, Kamala Harris — a member of the U.S. Senate from California — was elected Vice-President of the United States. Harris is of Black and South Asian descent.
THE CLAIM: In a November 8, 2020 article, the Bangor Daily News — a daily newspaper in Bangor, Maine — wrote that “Kamala Harris will become the 49th vice president of the United States, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the nation’s second-highest office” a claim also made by Esquire. The previous day, the Chicago Sun Times asserted that Harris “will be the first person of color as vice president.”
INVESTIGATION: In reporting that Harris would be the first person of color to be elected Vice-President of the United States, several media outlets essentially regurgitated a similar claim made by Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, in written remarks posted to democrats.org on November 6, 2020.
To investigate the claim, we first sought the definition of “person of color.” While the term has evolved over time, as of 2020 its meaning is fairly straightforward and unambiguous. Lexico, a collaboration between Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press, defines the term as “a person who is not white.” The Cambridge Dictionary, published by the Cambridge University Press, says it refers to “someone who does not consider themselves to be white.” Rinku Sen, executive director of the non-profit Race Forward, describes “person of color” as one of “America’s black, Latino, Asian and Native American residents.” Kee Malesky, a reporter for NPR affiliate WAMU-FM, writes that “person of color” … “usually covers all/any peoples of African, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Asian or Pacific Island descent.”
Is Kamala Harris the first “person of color” to be elected Vice-President of the United States as Esquire, the Bangor Daily News, and the Chicago Sun Times claim?
The comprehensive Encyclopedia of the American Presidency — edited by Michael Genovese, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University — notes that Vice-President of the United States (1929-1933) Charles Curtis “is best known for being of Native American descent” and that he was the “highest ranking non-Caucasian ever to serve in the U.S. Government before the election of Barack Obama.” This assertion is echoed in a 2002 resolution of the Kansas Legislature. House Concurrent Resolution No. 5021, an act to name a new office building after Curtis, states that Curtis was “ the highest elected native Kansan, and the only person of Native American descent, to hold the office of Vice-President of the United States.” The Encyclopedia of North American Indians — edited by Frederick Hoxie, the former Swanlund Professor of History, Law, and American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois — provides further support to the fact that Curtis was Native American, explaining that he was an enrolled member of the Kaw Nation.
RATING: Esquire, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Bangor Daily News uncritically regurgitated — in their own voices — a claim by DNC chair Tom Perez that Kamala Harris is the first person of color elected Vice-President of the United States. That claim is FALSE. Charles Curtis was the first person of color elected Vice-President of the United States.
Status: None of the three outlets published a correction within 72 hours of making the false claim.