The Unbearable Whiteness of Elizabeth Warren

I almost feel sad for Senator Warren. One day, a little girl looked in the mirror, saw pale skin, brown hair, and blue eyes looking back at her, and thought, “No. This can’t be right. This isn’t me.”

So she found a new identity, based on a family legend–a legend shared by a suspicious number of white people–that one of her ancestors was an American Indian.

warren-penn-state
Elizabeth Warren changed her race at Penn: Source

This new identity conveyed certain advantages: Harvard Law claimed her as a Native American to boost claims of racial diversity among the faculty:

A majority [83%] of Harvard Law School students are unhappy with the level of representation of women and minorities on the Law School faculty, according to a recent survey. …

Law students said they want to learn from a variety of perspectives and approaches to the law. “A black male from a lower socioeconomic background will approach the study of constitutional law in a different way from a white upper-class male,” Reyes said. …

Of 71 current Law School professors and assistant professors, 11 are women, five are black, one is Native American and one is Hispanic, said Mike Chmura, spokesperson for the Law School.

Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, Chmura said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.

In response to criticism of the current administration, Chmura pointed to “good progress in recent years.”

As did Penn:

The University of Pennsylvania chose not to tout in the press their newly minted Native American professor. But her minority status was duly noted: The university’s Minority Equity Report, published in April 2005, shows that Warren won a teaching award in 1994. Her name is in bold and italicized to indicate she was a minority. …

The law school was happy to have her count as a diversity statistic, however, and for at least three of the years she taught there — 1991, 1992, and 1994 — an internal publication drawing on statistics from the university’s federal affirmative action report listed one Native American female professor in the university’s law school.

Warren’s Native American identity may have played no role in her hiring (the committees involved appear not to have known or cared about her identity,) but it seems to have been important to Warren herself. As her relatives aged and died, and she moved away from her childhood home in Oklahoma and then Texas, she was faced with that persistent question: Who am I?

The truth, a white woman from a working class family in Oklahoma, apparently wasn’t enough for Elizabeth. (Oklahoma doesn’t carry many status points over in East Coast academic institutions.)

Each of us is the sum of many things, including the stories our families tell us and genetic contributions from all of our ancestors–not just the interesting ones (within a limit–after enough generations, each individual contribution has become so small that it may not be passed on in reproduction.)

I have also done the 23 and Me thing, and found that I hail from something like 20 different ethnic groups–including, like Warren, a little smidge of Native American. But none of those groups make up the majority of my DNA. All of them are me; none of them are me. I just am.

Warren’s announcement of her DNA findings vindicated her claim to a Native American ancestor and simultaneously unveiled the absurdity of her claim to be a Native American. What should have been a set of family tales told to friends and passed on to children and grandchildren about a distant ancestor became a matter of national debate that the Cherokee Nation itself felt compelled to weigh in on:

Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. 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. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.

Like them or not, the Cherokee have rules about who is and isn’t a Cherokee, because being Cherokee conveys certain benefits–for example, the tribe builds houses for members and helps them look for jobs. This is why conflicts arise over matters like whether the Cherokee Freedmen are official members. When membership in a group conveys benefits, the borders of that group will be policed–and claims like Warren’s, no matter how innocently intended, will be perceived as an attempt at stealing something not meant for her.

Note: I am not saying this kind of group border policing is legitimate. Many “official” Cherokee have about as much actual Cherokee blood in them as Elizabeth Warren, but they have a documented ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, so they qualify and she doesn’t. Border policing is just what happens when there are benefits associated with being part of a group.

I don’t have an issue with Warren’s own self-identity. After all, if race is a social construct,* then she’s doing it exactly right. She’s allowed to have an emotional connection to her own ancestors, whether that connection is documented via the Dawes Rolls or not. All of us here in America should have equal access to Harvard’s benefits, not just the ones who play up a story about their ancestors.

The sad thing, though, is that despite being one of the most powerful and respected women people in America, she still felt the need to be more than she is, to latch onto an identity she doesn’t truly possess.

You know, Elizabeth… it’s fine to just be a white person from Oklahoma. It’s fine to be you.

 

*Note: This blog regards “species” and nouns generally as social constructs, because language is inherently social. That does not erase biology.

22 thoughts on “The Unbearable Whiteness of Elizabeth Warren

  1. What’s worst:
    The “Native American” ancestry found in her and in many other Whites might as well just be like a residual from the Ancient North Eurasians, carried through the Eastern European Hunter Gatherers ancestry in the Yamnaya.

    We know that American Indians share this ANE ancestry with Europeans.

    About Warren:
    Don’t try to humanize her, or find slips and threads to justify her train of thought.
    She’s just a byproduct of white guilt.

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    • From what I understand, the chunks of NA DNA she has are large enough that they indicate a recent ancestor. (Over many generations, DNA gets split up and recombined, so like the 3% Neanderthal DNA a lot of people have is in tiny chunks, not one or two big ones.)

      White guilt is sad, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of these days i’m going to say I have a penis and I’m going to get ridiculed.

    I think it is more beneficial that I support someone who is doing good, Who is trying to do good, rather than topoint to all their flaws on some principle of ‘actuality’.

    Of course indigenous people would speak into this matter because genetically it doesn’t matter whether you have any American Indian in you unless you’re worried about having babies in some sort of genetic propensity for disease or something; because it’s more about culture now, it’s more about politics than it is about substance.

    So here Warren was actually trying to talk about substance. But we’re not allowed to talk about substance in politics because it soon as you talk about substance in politics it all becomes political and then you have all these super geniuses tearing everything down to pieces for some unknown purpose (but I suspect it’s the purpose of keeping the patriarchy in power. For asserting men’s righteousness and women as ignorant fools and people of color as dumb and useless.)

    I think we’re going to assert our righteousness untill we just live in a world of hell , and our children are going to hate us. Lol.

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  3. … oh but yeah it is pretty white to try and find substance: but that’s because the culture of whiteness has left many of us with no culture at all. So we have to search for many places and try out many things seeing if indeed this is the culture I was looking for this is the substance that I’ve been wanting my whole life.

    Yeah I’m not justifying whiteness. But sometimes we got to give people props for at least trying to search for something good. As opposed to say Donald Trump that just wants to announce to the world how great he is.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lol. .. and you know what? I think I would scour my genetics to see if I have some other Rachel form and me that would disassociate me as far as possible from the culture that Donald Trump is associated with.

    Shit if Donald Trump is white then I’m going to call myself purple! I’m going to do whatever I can to disassociate myself from that dude‘s culture, in the way I’m going to do that is I’m going to self criticize I’m gonna look at myself I’m gonna look how I present myself in the world and the things that I think are good and I’m going to try do an act those.

    I’m going to say I’m fucking from Saturn. Whatever it is, even though I look the same as Donald Trump I’m gonna do whatever I fucking can to make a solid delineation between my type a person and human being and his type of person. 👽. Lol.

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  5. So to be clear, you’re dragging someone for something they said in the 70’s.

    She did not make it a big issue since then. But someone wanting to make fun of her did, so they called her a liar (and various slurs that I am sure you don’t endorse.) She defended herself to the extent of saying “I wasn’t a liar.”

    Part of this is “play with a bully and you come off looking bad” and I admit Warren does not look great at this juncture. But you really can’t recount this story without mentioning the bully’s role in it and casting it just as some sort of self-loathing narrative. Dude promised a $1million to charity if she provided this proof, he did, and now he welched. Dude is also President. Seems a lot more relevant to me than a Senator’s psychological motivations in the 70’s.

    I suppose you can take the stance “we should watch everything we say and claim for how it might be viewed four decades later by extremely cynical opponents.” But that sounds like Hell, and I don’t really endorse it.

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    • What did I say that was negative? If I were in her shoes, I would have done the exact same thing. I understand where she’s coming from, because I’ve been there.

      “I don’t have an issue with Warren’s own self-identity. … She’s allowed to have an emotional connection to her own ancestors, whether that connection is documented via the Dawes Rolls or not.”

      It’s only an issue because some people think she’s gotten benefits from claiming to be Native American, because our society hands out benefits based on race. This makes people concerned about cheating. I doubt Warren actually did befit unfairly, but Harvard and Penn definitely did (in the 90s, which is two decades past the 70s.) I can also understand how people with significantly more connection to Indian cultures might feel that this is pretty darn dishonest.

      Oh, and it’s an issue because it got written up in a major newspaper, which kind of made it front page news.

      I agree that Trump should pay up the 1 million.

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    • Trump’s $1m “offer” was never serious, but a mocking joke. This seems abundantly obvious if you’ve listened to it. “Do me a favor and keep it within this room, because I don’t want to keep any secrets.” This said to a mass political rally.

      Also, it was hypothetical even taking it literally, which I would not. The hypothetical circumstance is Trump in a Presidential debate with candidate Warren in 2020.

      I’ll bet you a million dollars if you look into it, you’ll agree.

      Beyond that, of course, even in the cherry-picked bites of it used by disingenuous partisans, Trump’s condition is “if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian”. Warren did take a DNA test, yes, but it showed her as 1/1024th Indian. This is — at least arguably — not “shows you’re an Indian”. To assert the converse is to accept a racial standard by most white people in America are Indians. Presumably, Trump does not believe that. I don’t. I doubt you do either.

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      • Fair enough. I did not see/hear the original speech, but sometimes even when something was meant jokingly, if your bluff is called, it is good to admit your opponent played well. But people more familiar than I with the original challenge can have the last word.

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  6. I don’t have an issue with Warren’s own self-identity. After all, if race is a social construct,* then she’s doing it exactly right.

    Not so, and that’s one of the things that’s so funny about Warren’s self-immolation. A social construct is “an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a society”. Data that are objectively computable by machines are not social constructs. By touting a DNA test to prove that she’s Indian white (with a wafer-thin slice of Indian), Warren is implicitly admitting that race is not a social construct.

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    • The tension between ethnicity as construct and ethnicity as biology in this case is fascinating, but it remains that Warren considered herself NA because of the combination of her mother and grandmother telling her stories as a child about an “Indian” ancestor and our culture’s deprecation of prole whites. This made “I’m an Indian” emotionally resonant for Warren. Had Warren not been raised with such stories,had they not been important to her, had she just found out about the NA ancestor via DNA test (like I did,) she wouldn’t have formed such an identity in the first place.

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      • And if anything, the Cherokee’s response is not “You don’t have enough DNA to be an Indian,” it’s “we entirely reject the notion of DNA having anything to do with being an Indian. We have our own rules [ie, social construct] for what makes a Cherokee, and you don’t qualify by our standards.”

        A person could easily be 100% Native American by DNA, but since all 32 of their great-great grandparents came from different tribes, not have enough of any single tribe’s DNA to qualify under particular tribal rules for tribal membership. It’s a funny world.

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    • You have to give Rachel Dolezal, who pretended to be Black, some credit for living the lifestyle over an extended period. But was she really black…

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      • Of course Dolezal is not black by my standards, because I am a raving right-wing nut who believes in objectively measuring stuff. No African ancestors means not black. (And 1 out of 1024 isn’t enough.)

        But objective fact is not the domain in which the real argument is. As EvX points out above, de facto our racial categories are social constructs, and as such they are political. So what’s relevant to Dolezal and Warren is the political power struggle to control the categories. And here, obviously Dolezal has been smacked down. She’s not black because she has not the power to assert that she is. But politics can change, so perhaps in the future, Dolezal may have been black all along!

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      • I think the biggest objection to Dolezal’s “blackness” (aside from the obvious) is that she was employed by the NAACP. This is a paying position that blacks see as reserved for them, and so she was seen as a white person taking something that was meant for black people.

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      • https:// m.youtube.com/watch?v=p26xGXbam_w The lyrics here are Messianic Jewish, demanding to be accepted by other Jews perhaps?

        Like

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