Kamala Harris, presidential hopeful in the 2020 race, has spoken openly about her heritage. Being the daughter of two immigrants has affected her perspective of the world, her personal history (including her oft-mispronounced name, which means "lotus" in Sanskrit), and her stance on various issues. An important piece of her backstory is Kamala's father, Donald Harris, a prominent former economics professor at Stanford and an immigrant from Jamaica, who has...thoughts about some things that Kamala has said. It sounds like they have an important, but complicated relationship, so here's what we know.
According to his Stanford bio, Donald is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He attended the University of California Berkeley and worked at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) before coming to California. He's traveled extensively, and often spoke about the economic situation in his home nation of Jamaica and how to improve the economy there and in other developing nations.
In fact, during his time at Stanford, he acted as economic consultant to the Jamaican government and advisor to various prime ministers there.
He was a prominent professor at Stanford.
According to his bio, Donald joined the faculty at Stanford in 1972. His focus has been "exploring 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."
He's now been retired since 1998, and has the title of emeritus professor currently. Apparently he now works on "developing public policies to promote economic growth and advance social equity."
He was divorced from Kamala's mother.
Kamala's mother, Shyamala Gopalan, passed away in 2009 of colon cancer. She and Donald divorced when Kamala was 7. Initially the family lived in California; Kamala talked about being bussed to school in California in the first Democratic debate. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she was "part of the second class to integrate Berkeley’s classrooms when she began school in 1969." The project achieved national fame for its efficacy at the time. Kamala moved away at 12 years old when her mother got a research job in Canada.
Kamala speaks about her mother and sister on social media, but there hasn't been much, if anything about her father.
He's spoken about his family's Jamaican heritage.
In an article to Jamaica Global Online, Donald wrote an article in which he said, "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."
He was critical of one of Kamala's jokes on the campaign.
At one point while she was on tour, Kamala was asked whether she smoked pot when she was young (which I think is a ridiculous question, TBH, but whatever). She said, "Half my family’s from Jamaica, are you kidding me?"
Her father sent a comment to a Jamaican publication, saying, "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."
"Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty," he added. (A travesty?? Wow.) Kamala's campaign, no surprise, had no comment. When emailed by Politico for further comment, Donald said, "I have decided to stay out of all the political hullabaloo by not engaging in any interviews with the media."
So, that happened! It's not totally clear the exact relationship Kamala currently has with her father—it sounds like it might be complex.
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