Perhaps you recall Senator Kamala Harris’ interview on NYC radio show “The Breakfast Club” last week? The one where the presidential candidate captured headlines when she answered host Charlamagne Tha God’s question about whether she supported legalization by reminding everyone that half her family is from Jamaica. “Are you kidding me?” Harris laughed, amused at the prospect of never having smoked marijuana, even as an ex-California attorney general. “Listen, I think [it] gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy.”
Turns out, her Jamaican father didn’t feel all that happy upon hearing of her remarks.
Donald J. Harris, a Stanford University emeritus professor of economics, wrote to a site for which he had recently penned an essay outlining the steps he took to instill pride of her Jamaican heritage in Kamala, in order to express displeasure with the implications of what she shared about her family.
“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 commented to Jamaica Global Online.
Apparently, the “Breakfast Club” banter—which included an admission on Kamala’s part of having smoked weed “a long time ago”—were enough to have the economist looking for space. “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty.”
In his January essay, entitled “Reflections of a Jamaican Father”, Donald Harris takes pains to trace the Harris’ diverse family tree, which includes agricultural exporters, a dry goods store owner, and even a slave master.
He was not the only person who did not take kindly to the implications of Harris’ jocular “Breakfast Club” appearance. The senator also came under fire for her shaky grasp on hip-hop history, having been called out for telling the show’s hosts that she listened to rappers Tupac Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dogg in college. She graduated four to five years before the emcees’ debut studio albums were released.
In 2015, Jamaica decriminalized the possession of up to two ounces of weed, forgoing criminal penalties for a fine equivalent to $5 USD. Thanks to the cultural impact of high profile Jamaican cannabis users like members of the Rastafarian faith and their most famous representative Bob Marley, the weed tourism industry on the island is booming. Foreigners are allowed to use a physician’s recommendation from home to buy marijuana while in Jamaica, or get the go-ahead from a local doctor.
But attitudes towards cannabis on the island—perhaps reflected by Professor Harris’ consternation over his daughter’s comments—have not always been so benevolent. Jamaican police have a dismal history of targeting Jamaica’s Rastafarian population, and put draconian minimum sentences into effect after 1963’s infamous Coral Gardens Massacre a.k.a. Bad Friday, when more than 400 Rastafarians were incarcerated at once.
Harris herself has shifted her views on legalization of marijuana on a state and federal level. As a prosecutor, she dismissed questions about her views on cannabis regulation, but in recent years has spoken out on the War on Drug’s racist nature, and even co-sponsored last year’s Marijuana Justice Act. Now that pro-pot views are de rigueur for 2020 presidential candidates, some marijuana advocates have questioned politicians’ actual dedication to a suddenly fashionable cause.