Elizabeth Warren, Ancestry and Honesty

This whole Elizabeth Warren heritage thing is making me kind of mad. Elizabeth Warren did not “make a mistake” when she listed Native American as part of her heritage as some people are claiming. She made a conscious decision to list herself as part Native American based on the belief that she is, in fact, part Native American. Unless there was something next to the box saying, “Do not check this if you are less than 1/10 Native American,”* then she didn’t do anything wrong.**

Her motivation doesn’t matter that much, even, because she checked the box in good faith. It’s a little like when I list off my heritage (except none of these have “minority” status): Irish, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Scottish, English. I have no idea what the proportion of each of these are of my heritage. I know Irish and German probably make up the most with Scottish making up the smallest proportion. There’s actually a chance that I have a Native American ancestor, but the link was never established as a sure thing, and I grew up under the impression that I descended only from Europeans.

Getting mad that Elizabeth Warren included her Native American ancestry is akin to getting made that I include Scottish in my heritage. The only difference is that her status as a Native American might confer some sort of benefit. If these benefits should only go to people (or their employers) with a certain proportion of Native American ancestry, then that needs to be listed. If these benefits should only go to people who can absolutely prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they have Native American ancestry, then that should be listed. It doesn’t appear that either of these things were known requirements when Warren checked the “Native American” box – if they were, people have a right to be angry.

I’m going to be extremely honest right now: the people complaining about her listing Native American as part of her heritage sound a bit like they’re getting mad because a woman who is obviously white claimed minority status. It sounds rather like people are angry because a white woman, who of course is already privileged because she is white, is trying to also get whatever privileges go with being Native American. People actually say things like, “She’s clearly not Native American.” Huh, I didn’t know we had gone so solidly back to judging people based on how they look.***  I wonder if it’s possibly to convey how petty, racist, and stupid that is?

It’d be different if she lied. If she had listed anything from Native American to Hispanic to Asian when she had no reason to believe any of those were in her heritage, I would understand being upset about it. Lying is generally not a characteristic we should support in politicians, and lying about anything from qualifications to heritage is dishonorable and lacking in integrity.

But she didn’t lie. She told the truth. She shared information for which she was asked, and she did so honestly. Now she’s being attacked for answering truthfully on a form about race. Yay.

On a related note, it’s funny that Warren is being attacked, according to some, because she didn’t provide a succinct enough answer to questions about the heritage thing. In other words, because she had rehearsed the hell out of everything, thought of every possible issue before hand, and come up with picture perfect answers for everything (re: because she’s a real human being), people are not letting go of the issue. I hate politics.

*Or whatever proportion you want.

**I am curious – I can’t find the original story from the Boston Globe. Did Warren only check Native American? Did she check both white and Native American? Because a lot of systems considered any multi-ethnic individuals to be a minority. It would have been more problematic if we knew that Warren checked only Native American and didn’t include the other 31/32 of her heritage.

*** So can Daniel say he’s black? Because, I mean, his skin is white. He looks white. Would he be violating this weird obsession people have with skin color by calling himself black even though he legitimately is half black?

**** According to Wikipedia and this blog, the Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation is 1/32 Cherokee, just like Warren. And if you really want to go into it, here’s his Google images page. Now, if you didn’t already know he was part Native American, you really might not guess that he has anything other than European ancestry.

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One thought on “Elizabeth Warren, Ancestry and Honesty

  1. […] wanted to follow up to my post on the Elizabeth Warren controversy from Saturday. A reader forwarded a Newsy video to me. The video is an overview of what happened […]

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