Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who in November released the results of a DNA test in an attempt to corroborate her claims of Native American ancestry, conceded during a Friday commencement address that she is not in fact a “person of color.”
“As a country, we need to stop pretending that the same doors open for everyone, because they don’t,” Warren said in the commencement address at historically black Morgan State University. “I’m not a person of color. And I haven’t lived your life or experienced anything like the subtle prejudice, or more overt harm, that you may have experienced just because of the color of your skin.”
The release of Warren’s DNA profile, which indicated she had a Native American ancestor between six and ten generations ago, was met with intense criticism from pundits and activists across the political spectrum. A number of minority leaders — including Chuck Hoskin Jr., the secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation, to which Warren does not claim membership but does claim ancestral ties — strongly condemned her use of genetic testing and accused her of cheapening their identity by making it a purely biological matter.
“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” Hoskin Jr. said. “It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven.”
Though Warren has long been considered a serious contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, her DNA gaffe has damaged her standing among progressives, especially within minority communities — a fact Warren herself reportedly recognized shortly after releasing her DNA results via a dramatic film and write-up in the Boston Globe.
“Advisers close to Ms. Warren say she has privately expressed concern that she may have damaged her relationships to Native American groups and her own standing with activists, particularly those who are racial minorities,” the New York Times reported in early December. “Several outside advisers are even more worried: They say they believe a plan should be made to repair that damage, possibly including a strong statement of apology.”