California Democratic Sen. Kamala D. Harris hardly had time to finish basking in the glow of her presidential bid’s five-star rollout before 20,000 adoring Oakland hometown fans, when two black-media-inspired questions hit her in the face: Why did she marry a white man? And: Is she black enough?

Harris has answers to both questions. They will appear in this column. But let’s take a look at why these questions turn up in a presidential contest.

Questions about race, sex and interracial coupling aren’t new. Warring over them is older than the Republic.

As far back as 1664, the Maryland colony took a stance against crossing the color line, passing a law against white women marrying black male slaves. Should that unthinkable event happen, the law required that she, too, become a slave. In 1691, Virginia banned all interracial marriages, with threats of exile to whites who failed to obey.

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The objective of subsequent laws against miscegenation — i.e., sexual relationships between whites and blacks — was plain: Keep white supremacy, the racial caste system and black men in their place.

Along the way, groups such as the Ku Klux Klan introduced violence to make the prohibitions stick — all in the name of protecting the purity of vulnerable white women.

But times, they are a-changin’.

As social distances between whites and people of color have been reduced, interracial coupling and marriages have multiplied — the fulfillment of a segregationist’s nightmare.

In the more than 50 years since the Loving v. Virginia decision, there has been more than a fivefold increase in the percentage of newlyweds getting married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.

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A 2017 Pew Research Center analysis of census surveys also showed a strong drop in people who say they would be opposed to a family member marrying out of their race. Specifically, opposition among nonblacks to a family member marrying someone who is black plummeted from 63 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2016.

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But while anti-miscegenation laws were killed by the high court, sentiment against interracial coupling remains alive among some Americans.

Last March, the Economist-YouGov poll found that 17 percent of Americans think interracial marriage is “morally wrong.” On a racial basis, a nearly equal percentage of respondents felt the same way: 17 percent of whites said it was morally wrong. So did 18 percent of blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics.

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Thus, notions of black inferiority still abide in some whites. So too, hostility toward intermarriage among some blacks who regard crossing the color line to marry a white person as an act of racial betrayal.

White and black separatists miss the point.

Individuals, regardless of pigmentation, don’t marry a race. Marriage is a decision by two people — not two racial groups — to form a union. They do it because they want to share their lives — with each other.

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Hear Harris on Feb. 11 when confronted on New York’s hip-hop radio show, “The Breakfast Club”: “Look, I love my husband, and he happened to be the one that I chose to marry because I love him — that was that moment in time, and that’s it. And he loves me.”

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No more needs saying.

But on the same show, a question was raised about the legitimacy of Harris’s “blackness.” Is she black enough?

It’s hard to keep a civil tongue in the face of such inanity. But exist it does.

In 2017 at the University of Texas at Austin, Kappa Alpha Psi, a predominantly black fraternity, hosted a Miss Black University of Texas scholarship pageant, as it has for 35 years. The winner was a senior, Rachael Malonson. Once her picture was shared on Twitter, social media critics went wild.

She was biracial. Angry tweeters charged she was not dark enough to be a “black” role model. Colorism — discrimination based on skin shade — had raised its ugly head.

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It doesn’t stop there.

Is Barack Obama, son of a white American woman and a Kenyan father, “black enough to get support in the African American community?” asked media critic Howard Kurtz on “Meet the Press” in 2007.

“Is [Harris] African American or is she black?” CNN host Don Lemon demanded to know earlier this month. (I may be wrong, but I doubt the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and the racist skinheads make such a fine distinction.)

U.S.-born Harris — Howard University graduate and longtime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, America’s oldest black sorority, and whose parents are from India and Jamaica — said of her legitimacy, “I’m black, and I’m proud of being black. I was born black. I will die black, and I’m not going to make excuses for anybody because they don’t understand.”

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It’s Harris’s character and record, not the race of her husband or parents, that should matter. Would that in 2019 we cared about such things.

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Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

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