The Corner

Elizabeth Warren’s Teachable Moment

Senate candidate, Harvard law professor, and 1-percenter Elizabeth Warren, apparently at an earlier, less established point in her cursus honorum, claimed a Native American pedigree — based not on the proverbial Jim Crow 1/16th drop, but perhaps either a 1/32nd mist, or an even vaguer and unprovable claim of some family lore about Native American relatives. Warren’s is the sort of comical “Cherokee con” that every professor at some time hears from white males yearning to find some edge in admissions or hiring; in that regard, I once had a student from North Africa check “African-American” on a PhD application form, despite my warning that as an Arab American he was not eligible for affirmative-action. More recently, my Punjabi American neighbor farmer still does not understand why his family’s quite dark complexions and exotic names don’t qualify his children for the special consideration in university admissions that much lighter teenaged foreign nationals that recently cross the border from Mexico enjoy. He finds that strange. 

A cynical professor Warren apparently realized that affirmative action/diversity had long become a bankrupt concept, 50 years after the civil-rights movement in an increasingly multiracial, intermarried society with millions of first-generation immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The blonde, pale Warren, of course, looks Anglo; she had no ties to any perceived Indian tribe, and apparently had never complained about ill-treatment due to the supposed race of one of her great-great-great-grandparents. The faker Ward Churchill likewise had no identifiable support for his claim of Native American minority status, but he at least dressed the part and wrote eloquently if not mythically about vicarious white oppression. Had Warren at least adopted a middle name like “Angwusnasomtaqa” or even a first-name like “White Squirrel”, her listing as a Native American minority in the directories of law faculty might have compensated somewhat for her otherwise thoroughly Anglo appearance and upbringing. 

Then there was the strange effort to turn half-Hispanic George Zimmerman into a Germanic-sounding “white Hispanic” rather than a Latino, as if better to emphasize his predatory rather than victimized nature. Barack Obama, of similar 50/50 heritage, strangely is never identified by the New York Times similarly as a “white African-American.” In today’s topsy-turvy world of careerist self-identification, had Obama stuck with his once more familiar “Barry” and adopted his maternal name Dunham, a half-white Barry Dunham would not have had the emotive power of Barack Obama, in a way that a half-Peruvian Jorge Lopez or Jorge Martinez might not so easily have been tagged as Trayvon Martin’s racist white oppressor — again actual appearance or heritage not being quite as important as the deliberate and conscious emphasis or neglect of it. At some point, as we tire more and more of these constructed fantasies, the public should go back to assessing people on their character and achievement rather than these self-created, trilled identities that we see so often on the local six-o’clock news.

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