Ancestry isn’t the issue in Warren race
Concord, New Hampshire
The flap over Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry would be a tempest in a teepee if, that is, the Cherokee she claimed to be on some college forms lived in teepees, which they didn’t. The Cherokee didn’t have princesses either, which hasn’t stopped plenty of people over the years from claiming to be descendants of one.
Warren is in a close race with Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown for Teddy Kennedy’s old seat. The Brown campaign, as any campaign could be expected to do, is using her claim of Native American ancestry to question her honesty. But nothing suggests that the fiery consumer advocate ever sought any advantage from her claim. Whether Warren is or isn’t Native American is irrelevant in the context of a run for the Senate. It’s distracting voters from the economic issues voters care about, but it has focused attention on questions about race and identity that society hasn’t resolved…
…Since Warren’s roots are in Oklahoma, a state with 310,000 Cherokee residents, it’s quite likely that she does have a Native American ancestor. So do millions of other people. But there’s a difference between ancestry and ethnicity, culture and identity. One can do nothing about one’s ancestry, but ethnicity and identity require some degree of participation in a group culture and tradition. By that standard, Warren and countless others with a Native American ancestor are not Native American.
The United States has come a long way since states had laws specifying, for example, what proportion of African American ancestry a person could have and be considered legally white – one-quarter to one-half in some states, not one drop of black blood in Tennessee…
…In 2000, the Census Bureau recognized that by allowing people to check more than one box when asked to identify their race. Though collecting reliable demographic information about race is important to measure the fairness of elections, the targeting of government programs, for medical research and other reasons, it’s debatable how valuable the census information is when millions of people can legitimately check maybe a half dozen or more boxes. Some of the boxes don’t even indicate race but ethnicity. The bureau specifies, for example, that people who think of themselves as Hispanic, Spanish or Latino can be of any race.
By one expert’s estimate, about one-third of America’s population is multi-racial and that percentage is increasing. Intermarriage has made for some amusing family histories. President Obama considers himself black, but according to the New England Historic Genealogical Society he’s related to Warren’s opponent, Scott Brown, and according to other genealogists, to former vice president Dick Cheney, both of whom are white…
Read the entire editorial here.