The Corner

Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Roughly 1/64th to 1/1,024th Native American

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, Mass.) delivers a major policy speech on “Ending corruption in Washington” at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., August 21, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

I’ve been seeing a lot of different fractions in media write-ups, apparently because the Boston Globe messed up its initial article, so I just wanted to clarify what the report on the senator’s ancestry actually says.

Warren apparently had “an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample” (my emphasis) — that is, not including Warren herself — and the likely range is six to ten generations. You can figure this out mathematically by raising two to the number of generations, but for simplicity let’s just walk it backward, with the three key numbers (low estimate, central estimate, high estimate) in bold:

One generation back (Warren’s parents): 2 ancestors

Two generations Before Warren (grandparents): 4

3 generations b.w. (great-grandparents): 8

4 generations b.w.: 16

5 generations b.w.: 32

6 generations b.w.: 64

7 generations b.w.: 128

8 generations b.w.: 256

9 generations b.w.: 512

10 generations b.w.: 1,024

Of course, the media’s math struggles are not the big issue here. The issue is whether Warren’s trace amounts of Native American ancestry justify her behavior while climbing the academic ladder a couple decades ago, or whether with shocking cynicism she exploited hiring preferences intended for members of oppressed minority groups. As my colleague David French wrote last year:

When she came to Harvard Law School, she was — believe it or not — considered by some to be a “minority hire.” She listed herself as a minority on a legal directory reviewed by deans and hiring committees. The University of Pennsylvania “listed her as a minority faculty member,” and she was touted after her hire at Harvard Law School as, yes, the school’s “first woman of color.”

This was no small thing. At the time, elite universities were under immense pressure to diversify their faculties (as they still are). “More women” was one command. “More women of color” was the ideal. At Harvard the pressure was so intense that students occupied the administration building, and the open spaces of the school were often filled with screaming, chanting students.

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