Donald Harris is the father of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. The economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University was born in Jamaica before moving to the United States to earn his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. There he met a fellow graduate student, Shyamala Gopalan, who he would marry in 1963 and have two daughters with, Kamala and Maya. Following their divorce, Harris' two daughters were raised primarily by their mother.
While he has remained out of the spotlight during his daughter's campaign for the White House, he received attention in February 2019 after she referenced her Jamaican roots when asked if she had smoked marijuana in the past, as reported by Politico.
"Half my family's from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?" the then-candidate for the Democratic presidential nominee said in a lighthearted response.
Harris was not a fan of the comment and responded in a statement to the Kingston-based Jamaica Global Online.
"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."
Harris Is A Renowned Economist
Harris was born on August 23, 1938, in Brown's Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica, as reported by Town & Country. In 1963, he moved to the United States to attend the University of California, Berkeley and would eventually become naturalized as a U.S. citizen. After graduating with his Ph.D. in 1966, he worked as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University before he was hired as an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1968. He left the role in 1972 to become a professor of economics at Stanford University and would go on to become the first Black scholar to be granted tenure in the university's Department of Economics. He retired from Stanford in 1998, upon which he was given the title of emeritus professor.
Harris's work brought him around the world to conduct research and give seminars. He also served in various consultancy roles with national governments, including serving as an economic adviser in Jamaica.
"His research and publications have centered on 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," reads his Stanford biography, describing the economist's work.
Harris Met Gopalan During A Protest
During his first year at the University of California, Berkeley, Harris would become involved in the U.S. civil rights movement. He would meet Gopalan while attending a protest in the city and married in 1963 after a whirlwind romance. In 1964, their first daughter Kamala was born, followed by Maya in 1967. The couple divorced in December 1971, with his ex-wife granted full custody of his daughters. While the terms of the divorce meant Harris saw much less of his children, he detailed in a 2018 essay the love he always held for his family.
"Nevertheless, I persisted, never giving up on my love for my children or reneging on my responsibilities as their father," Harris wrote.
In that same essay, Harris described taking his daughters to visit his family's property in Orange Hill, Jamaica, and showing them the world that he had grown up in. The vice presidential candidate often cites her heritage and the importance both her father and mother placed on educating her about it as integral in shaping her worldview as a politician.