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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Explained: Who is Donald Harris, the economist father of Kamala Harris?

In her speech, Kamala Harris’ mention of her father was limited to establishing how her mother met him at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1960s.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 29, 2020 9:36:42 am
In this April 1965 photo provided by the Kamala Harris campaign, Donald Harris holds his daughter, Kamala. (Kamala Harris campaign via AP)

Last week, US Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris, who is the first Asian American and first Black woman in American history on a major party ticket, as his vice-presidential pick, and a potential White House successor.

While accepting her nomination Wednesday night, Harris, who is the daughter of immigrant parents, spoke about her mother as someone “whose shoulders I stand on”. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, came from India when she was 19 and went on to become a breast cancer researcher, and her father, Donald J. Harris, is a Jamaican-born economics professor.

Harris also mentioned her parents’ divorce. “When I was five, my parents split and my mother raised us mostly on her own” to become “strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage”.

In her speech, Harris’ mention of her father was limited to establishing how her mother met him at the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1960s.

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Who is Kamala Harris’ father?

Jamaican-born Donald Harris arrived in the US in 1961 to pursue a graduate degree at University of California (Berkeley) and went on to become a professor of economics at Stanford University. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1972 and was a leader in developing the new programme in Alternative Approaches to Economic Analysis as a field of graduate study. He also taught a popular undergraduate course “Theory of Capitalist Development” for many years at the university. He retired from Stanford in 1998 to pursue his goal of developing public policies to promote economic growth and advance social equity.

Harris also served as economic consultant to the Government of Jamaica in early 2000s and as economic adviser to successive prime ministers.

According to The New York Times, Harris’s work “questioned orthodox assumptions about growth — for instance that lower wages would increase employment rates, or that lower interest rates always result in increased investment”.

After a radio interview Harris gave last year, she made headlines when she admitted that she smoked marijuana in college, “Half my family’s from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?” she said.

The comment did not go down well with her father who wrote a letter to a Jamaican site, which was later taken down. “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty,” he said in the letter.

Also read | Kamala Harris’ dual identities challenge America’s race labels

In an essay her father wrote for Jamaica Global in 2018, titled “Reflections of a Jamaican Father”, he spoke of his “grassroots Jamaican philosophy” and expressed “regret” that his daughters “did not come to know very well the two most influential women in my life” who strongly influenced him. He acknowledged that his paternal grandmother sparked his interest in eclmalonomics “simply by my observing and listening to her in her daily routine”.

He also said that his last name comes from his paternal grandfather Joseph Alexander Harris who was a land-owner and an agricultural exporter who died in 1939, a year before he was born. He also described his elder daughter (Kamala Harris) as “ever the adventurous and assertive one”.

“This early phase of interaction with my children came to an abrupt halt in 1972…” he wrote “…based on the false assumption by the State of California that fathers cannot handle parenting (especially in the case of this father, “a neegroe from da eyelans” was the Yankee stereotype, who might just end up eating his children for breakfast!).”

In Kamala Harris’s book published in 2019, titled The Truths We Hold, she mentions her father as someone who “wanted me to run free” and maintains that even after her parents’ separation her father remained a part of their lives. “We would see him on weekends and spend summers with him in Palo Alto.”

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