Donald Harris, the father of vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, is a prominent economics professor who has had harsh words for his daughter’s comments on the campaign trail.
Democrat Joe Biden chose Harris, a U.S. senator and former presidential candidate, as his vice presidential running mate on August 11, 2020.
Donald Harris is also known as Donald J. Harris. He was born in Jamaica and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to his Stanford University biography. You can find a list of his publications and articles here. He once wrote an article called, “Reflections of a Jamaican Father” for Jamaica Global Online.
According to the Institute for New Economic Thinking, “Donald J. Harris is best known for bringing Post-Keynesian economics (particularly the Kaleckian and Neo-Ricardian brand) into development economics.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Donald Harris Was Upset About Kamala Harris’s Jamaican Pot Smoking Joke
Kamala Harris, who has already hit the 2020 presidential election trail, was asked on the radio about whether she smoked pot when she was young. She joked, “Half my family’s from Jamaica, are you kidding me?”
That didn’t sit well with her father, Donald Harris, who perceived the joke as a slam at his family’s heritage. He went off on the comment in a statement he released to a Jamaican news site.
“My dear departed grandmothers (whose extraordinary legacy I described in a recent essay on this website), as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics,” he wrote, according to Politico.
Added Donald Harris: “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty.”
2. Donald Harris Is an Emeritus Professor of Economics
Kamala’s dad is an emeritus professor of economics at a prestigious university – Stanford.
According to his Stanford biography, Donald Harris, at Stanford, “was a leader in developing the new program in Alternative Approaches to Economic Analysis as a field of graduate study. For many years he also taught the popular undergraduate course in Theory of Capitalist Development.”
His research explored the “analytical conception of the process of capital accumulation and its implications for a theory of growth of the economy, with the aim of providing thereby an explanation of the intrinsic character of growth as a process of uneven development. From this standpoint, he has sought to critically assess the inherited traditions of economic analysis as well as contemporary contributions, while engaging in related empirical and historical studies of various countries’ experience.”
Harris has presented his research findings throughout the world. “He has travelled widely, doing research, consulting, or giving seminars and invited lectures, in the Caribbean and in Canada, England, Holland, France, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand,” the Stanford bio says.
3. Harris Was a Wisconsin Professor Who Went to College in Berkeley
Donald Harris joined Stanford in 1972. Before that, he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). He was named a professor there “three years after graduating from the University of California (Berkeley),” his bio says.
He’s now retired but has earned the distinguished title of emeritus professor.
“He took early retirement from Stanford in 1998 in order to pursue more actively and practically his long-standing interest, which originally motivated him to take up the study of economics, in developing public policies to promote economic growth and advance social equity.”
4. Harris Has Tried to Help the Jamaican Economy & Has Outlined the Family’s Jamaican Roots, Which Include a Slave Owner
In his article about being a Jamaican father, Donald Harris wrote, “To this day, I continue to retain the deep social awareness and strong sense of identity which that grassroots Jamaican philosophy fed in me. As a father, I naturally sought to develop the same sensibility in my two daughters. Born and bred in America, Kamala was the first in line to have it planted.”
In the article, Harris explained the family’s Jamaican roots, writing:
My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town) and to my maternal grandmother Miss Iris (née Iris Finegan, farmer and educator, from Aenon Town and Inverness, ancestry unknown to me). The Harris name comes from my paternal grandfather Joseph Alexander Harris, land-owner and agricultural ‘produce’ exporter (mostly pimento or all-spice), who died in 1939 one year after I was born and is buried in the church yard of the magnificent Anglican Church which Hamilton Brown built in Brown’s Town (and where, as a child, I learned the catechism, was baptized and confirmed, and served as an acolyte).
He has done a lot of work on the Jamaican economy.
“Throughout his career he has had a continuing engagement with work on the economy of Jamaica, his native country. He served there, at various times, as economic consultant to the Government of Jamaica and as economic adviser to successive Prime Ministers,” according to the Stanford bio.
You can watch an old C-Span video with him speaking here.
5. Donald Is Divorced from Kamala’s Indian-Born Mother
Kamala Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, “emigrated from Chennai, India, to come to the University of California-Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology,” reports Mother Jones.
Her Jamaican-raised father met Shyamala in college. She was supposed to “return to India and an arranged marriage,” but she married Donald instead, the magazine reports.
Kamala also has a sister named Maya. Donald and Shyamala divorced when Kamala was 7. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, when she was 12, “Harris moved from Berkeley because her mother accepted a research job in Canada. She graduated from high school there.” In between, the Chronicle reports, she was indeed, as she said in the first Democratic debate, “part of the second class to integrate Berkeley’s classrooms when she began school in 1969…Thousand Oaks Elementary School, in a well-off area in North Berkeley near Solano Avenue, was the school to which Harris was bused.”