By Margo (Kickingbird) DeLaune & Cole R. DeLaune
If one proceeds from the premise that the objective of affirmative action is to promote mosaics of perspective as didactic apparatuses in and of themselves, then Warren is not an individual who can refer to a personal history defined by either Native culture or Native genetics. It is wonderful that her “family lore” aspires to inclusiveness with its nods to “high cheekbones” but to argue that such vaguely defined allusions are of similar value in shaping a unique world view as regular exposure to and celebration of specific custom, doctrine, and ideology, would be patently false. And if white privilege exists, as numerous proponents of liberalism contend, then it has to be aesthetic as well as cultural. Warren’s experience has, by and large, been that of a Caucasian female American. And so Warren’s motivation in emphasizing a claim to Native lineage becomes a central issue in regard to her credibility.
A not-insignificant number of her defenders have attempted to double down by maintaining that most Oklahomans likely have at least a minute amount of Indian DNA. What a poetic illustration of the legacy of colonialism: first, the European entitlement to Native territories, and, now, white entitlement to Native cultural identity sans the conditions that confer meaning on that identity. In this respect, Warren has arguably benefited from pervasive misconceptions about Indians and a propensity of mainstream America to romanticize them. Perhaps as a result of white guilt, it is an acceptable, even trendy, practice among stalwart Warren supporters in Internet forum dialogues to sympathetically recall their own ambiguous tales of indigenous ancestors and then to admit that they themselves have no proof but muddied familial oral narratives. After all, anyone who has listened to their aunt wax envious about cheekbones can’t be ignorant about the nuances informing tribal politics, ceremonies, and traditions, or about the unique obstacles with which many Natives grapple each day: third-world living standards on reservations; endemic alcoholism and poverty; a situational dearth of legal recourse due to jurisdictional complexities; an absence of opportunity for educational or economic betterment.
Now suppose you discover you're 1/32 black or Indian. Or you've always been 1/32 black or Indian; I'm not sure it matters. Do you list yourself as black or Indian in a professional capacity?
How does that square with your liberal ethos? You want to give opportunities to others...but you're taking one of the prime opportunities yourself? (Academic jobs don't get much better than a position at Harvard.) Even though you've already gained immensely from your white privilege while sacrificing nothing because of your minuscule minority heritage?
The whole point of affirmative action is to make up for the disadvantages caused by racism. But Warren hasn't suffered any racism, since she's lived as a white person. For her or Harvard to benefit from her "Native" designation is flatly ridiculous. It's cheating the people whom AA was intended for.
It's not as if Warren is attending Native conferences, touting Native job applicants, or mentoring Native students. She'd have a hard time claiming she's tried to help other Natives. Indeed, she dropped her "Native" designation on some job applications. Why do that if she's so proud of her heritage? Isn't that an admission that something was wrong?
Fundamentally, does she consider herself white or Native? Her race hasn't changed over time, so why has the designation changed? If there's some explanation besides career maneuvering--checking whichever box will gain her the most or lose her the least--I'm not seeing it. People are right to wonder if her choices were crassly calculated.
For more on Elizabeth Warren, see Warren's Neon "Pick Me" Sign and Warren Should Apologize to Minorities.