I shouldn’t write about this. I’m way too insane on this topic, too strident and militant and prone to uncharacteristic flights of outrage. Very few things offend me, but someone passing himself or herself off as Native American when he/she is white by any reasonable definition, and doing so in a way that might accrue personal benefits and perhaps even harm, indirectly, the opportunities of those who are genuinely members of an underrepresented racial or ethnic minority, raises the hackles on my dander [copy editor: please revise to comport with Post stylebook].
Elizabeth Warren, candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, listed herself as a minority in a reference book of law professors, according to the Boston Globe (the rival Herald broke the story about all this last Friday, I believe). Harvard, under fire for a lack of diversity on its faculty, counted Warren as a Native American. A genealogist says she’s 1/32nd Cherokee — her great great great grandmother was a Cherokee according to a 1894 record. Warren has said she didn’t use her self-identification as Native American to advance her career in any way and the law schools that hired her have said it was irrelevant.
The Boston stories raise the question of whether Warren passed herself off as something she wasn’t — whether, in some fashion, she gamed the system.
You could argue that we’re all too race-conscious to begin with. That’s a different discussion. Academia takes race into account in admissions and hiring. That’s the reality.
It so happens we’ve discussed this a lot in my household in recent years, as my girls have applied for college. They have, according to family lore, Native American ancestry. This goes back to the 1800s, when my mother’s forebears were pioneers on the frontier in the upper midwest. Supposedly we have Potawatami kin. But it’s sketchy. We’ve never documented it. (My Mom looks a little bit Indian. Maybe more than a little bit. And I once walked into the Hawk & Dove and a Native American man instantly asked: Are you Indian?)
Could my kids have tried to pass themselves off as Native American? Maybe, but it would’ve been wrong, a gaming of the system in hopes of getting a marginal advantage they didn’t need to begin with (they got into great schools — one is at Oberlin, another at Michigan — the upper midwest!). They’re white, and belong to a sprawling tribe of affluent kids in Northwest Washington and have had every advantage in the world except perhaps being forced to wait for the bus when Dad won’t give them a ride somewhere.
I have more thoughts on this but it kind of drives me crazy, plus I have to attend the Newsroom University where we will be told that we need to learn to be more digital and twittery, etc., which continues a discussion that we’ve been having for a very, very long time.
Update: A robust discussion in the boodle on this. Please keep it civil and respect the A-blog tradition of being intelligent and thoughtful as opposed to spittle-spewing and incoherent. If you prefer the latter, please go somewhere else!
Commenter campbell373 has posted Elizabeth Warren’s CV, and writes, “I count 16 competitive grants, 11 books (not counting the teaching manuals), too many articles to count (over 3 pages worth), 20 awards or honors, and 5 awards for great teaching. See any gaming the system here? There’s no need to game anything with this record of accomplishment. Any university would hire her.”
tomtildrum responds: “The argument isn’t that her CV is deficient; it’s that claiming NA status got her the initial foot in the door that made those CV accomplishments possible.”
[Well...except there’s no evidence of that. No one has said this made any difference at all. To be continued...]