What Does it Mean that Elizabeth Warren has a Native American Ancestor?

Elizabeth Warren got DNA tested. It turns out that on her 10th chromosome she has a good chunk of DNA that is likely Native American in origin.

It’s worth nothing that this is not a mound of DNA. The Boston Globe corrected its story and corrected it again to state that Warren has “a potential 10th generation relative” amounting to 1/1024 Native Americanness. Razib Khan, however, who I trust in all these matters clarifies that this is not your average white person:

 

Some are asking whether Warren is just a typical white American. You would need to do apples-to-apples comparisons. But my intuition is that she’s not. Most Old Stock white Americans probably have a genealogical relationship to Native Americans, but they may not have any segments of DNA because it is too far back. Warren is part of the minority of white Americans who have detectable Native American ancestry.

You can predict the reactions. Some are latching onto the laughable remoteness of 1/1024. On the other hand, she never claimed to be 100% or even 50%. Instead, she said that she grew up believing there was a Native American ancestor in her family, and that appears to have been true.

But is she Native American? There’s some arguments to be made for and against.

  1. Race is socially constructed, and in every way that matters, she lives the life of a white woman.
    This seems true. She presents as white. People’s assumption upon meeting her will be that she is white. She doesn’t seem to have suffered racial discrimination in her hiring. If she’s suffered in elections, it’s for being white, not for being Native American. She can pass for white whenever she wants to.
    Here’s a subtle example. Ana Navarro tweeted this:


    A lot of white people on Twitter were horrified by this prospect and insisted that Warren should not actually do this. I agree. Somehow, we know that doing that would be wrong. It would seem that if Warren truly laid full claim to this heritage, it should be her choice and not ours. I know I would not insist that a black friend who presents as black not dress up as a black historical figure. Why shouldn’t Warren be just as free to do what she wants?

  2. She believes she is Native American.
    There’s good reason to weight people’s beliefs about themselves over others’. If someone tells you they are a man when they look like a woman, the only reasonable response is to believe they are a man unless you want to demand they show you proof. Warren is the expert on her. If Native American is part of her self-identity, that is what matters.
  3. Native Americans regularly reject claims of white people to be Native American.
    A not insignificant number of real-life Native Americans say this isn’t a question of genetics. Instead, their identity is based on several other things that Warren does not share with them. Here is a sampling:


    .

  4. There’s a DNA test that says she has a Native American ancestor.
    When it comes down to it, she said she had a Native American ancestor, and it turns out she most likely did. Maybe that’s not enough to call her Native American, but it definitely is enough to call her a white woman with a Native American ancestor.
  5. DNA tests don’t matter to Native Americans.


    .

I’m genuinely torn here. I feel respect should be given to those who have truly suffered for their identities, which Warren has not. If they object, I would like to defer to their views. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to get a true census rather than a handful of tweets I was able to find.

On the other hand, her claim was likely made in good faith. The same good, misplaced faith behind “Johnny Cash, Johnny Depp, Miley Cyrus, and Bill Clinton’s” claimed Cherokee ancestry.

For white people to claim distant Cherokee heritage in 1855 or so had the interesting effect of “legitimating the antiquity of their native-born status as sons or daughters of the South,” as Gregory Smithers writes in Slate. In a crucial moment of swelling Southern pride, pointing out that your family had been here long enough to intermarry with Cherokees was a method of staking a claim to Southern identity. Southern white identity.

Their descendants believed them, and then they had children of their own who also believed these stories, and so on. Johnny Cash probably wasn’t faking it on purpose?—?he just believed his grandparents.

I haven’t done a tally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are literal millions of white people who claim to have some Native American ancestry but in fact have less than Warren does. Warren’s failing, if she is to be credited one at all, is no more than theirs.


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114 thoughts on “What Does it Mean that Elizabeth Warren has a Native American Ancestor?

  1. When I was growing up, I overheard a conversation between my parents and some friends of theirs about a guy they knew from synagogue and whose son I know from school. He had decided he was illegitimate, worked out who his real father was must, and announced that he was Irish. They were all skeptical.

    I never heard anything more, so I don’t know if this was ever resolved, but it’s an interesting jumping-off point: suppose you learned relatively late in life that your ethnicity was not what you thought: should that matter? Would you take up drinking Irish whiskey, or reading Yeats, or giving money to Noraid? Or would you decide that the way you were brought up and the community you’re part of now is who you are? Or decide to be Swedish because you’ve always liked the little meatballs and the true meaning of American is that everyone can reinvent themselves as they please?

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    • It would probably depend on the ethnicity or race and the degrees of separation. I wouldn’t do things like the reductio’s in your second paragraph, but I’d probably look at myself differently and I’d look at others of that race/ethnicity differently.

      That’s not a reasonable response to such revelations. But it’s how I’d respond, I’m sure.

      I’ll go further and suggest that “the social construction of race/ethnicity” usually includes a “social construction of the importance of ancestry.” And because I live among the society that does the constructing (and because I have only one vote among millions about how that social construction is constructed), it’s not entirely out of the question that someone would act/think differently upon learning of an unexpected part of one’s ancestry.

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      • These days I wouldn’t be suprised to run across someone who said their mother was a refugee from Alderaan, a planet which was destroyed by the Galactic Empire, if they thought it would move them up on the heirarchy of victimhood.

        Back when Warren was making these claims, having Native American ancestry seemed to be a big deal in academia. I don’t know how many here recall Ward Churchill, a Colorado professor who wrote that the US Army gave small pox infested blankets to Indians, and who claimed to be Native American, listing his ancestry as Moscogee, Creek, Cherokee, and other tribes, and claiming to be 3/16ths Cherokee. He much later turned out to be a crank and a fraud who didn’t have a single Indian among 142 ancestors, but he built an entire career on claiming to be an Indian spokesman.

        I suppose we perhaps all know who killed the idea of trying to gain liberal social status from being Native American. Say it with me. “Sarah Palin”. She was married to a Native American/Alaska Native, and I guess ruined for everybody else on the Democrat side.

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  2. My mother’s father sometimes claimed that he was one-sixteenth Cherokee Indian. Which, as Iearned my history, didn’t make a ton of sense to me because his entire family had seemingly lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for ever. But perhaps some had come from Georgia, Alabama, or Tennessee at some point? In any event, he made the claim.

    My maternal aunt did a genetics test and it came back all European. Not a bit of New World ancestry at all. Our ancestors came from a much wider swath of Europe than we’d been led to believe, but all of it European. If my grandfather had been relating stories accurately, my aunt should have been one thirty-second Cherokee (or, more likely Menomenee or Winnegabo or Potawotami, with her father’s ancestry so deeply rooted in the upper midwest). By then, my grandfather had long since passed so we have no way to challenge him with the science.

    While my grandfather had some unappealing qualities vis-à-vis his attitude towards black people, as did many of his generation, he was an honest man. Put a great premium on honesty, even when he had to make concessions he disliked. So I presume he was sincere in his claim to Native ancestry.

    My working theory is that at one point in time, having a Native grandfather made you more of a badass. So perhaps his father felt a need to brag about being a badass, and this was one way he did it. My grandfather would have been a very young boy at this point, so he simply believed everything that his father had said.

    This seems like the sort of thing that would be a common story. It happens that in Warren’s case, it was accurate.

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    • My high school friend, surname Goodbrod, was a quarter Winnebago. The time I met his grandfather, he warned me before hand, “For gods’ sake don’t say ‘Winnebago Sioux’, because according to grandpa, the only proper way to modify Sioux is ‘f*cking Sioux’.” Enormous amounts of ill will amongst the Great Plains tribes and tribes from farther east. Much of the confiscation of the Great Plains was possible because the US government accepted grants from tribes that were giving away their enemies’ territory, and no one was performing due diligence.

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    • Burt,

      You only have 50% of your parents DNA and ethnic markers are assigned randomly. In theory, any ethnicity in your parent that is less than 50% of their total could miss you completely. You can still claim those roots from a genealogical perspective, but DNA is different. That’s why I look like I just fell off the cabbage truck, with fair skin and reddish hair, but my sister looks like an Italian. My brother is closer to her in skin tone and hair color, but he and I look very much alike in our facial features. Genetics are endlessly fascinating.

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      • Understood abut the science (the “diluting paint v. shuffling cards” simile below is a very good one, though I could have done without the other terms even if used ironically); I agree that the evidence at hand is not dispositive. Suffice to say that there is both a lack of documentary evidence substantiating the claim (and yes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) and some other social indicators within the family that make me skeptical of the veracity of the claim.

        Perhaps my awkward ball-handling on that point obscured some other issues I wished to raise:

        1. It may not have been such a social disadvantage, even seventy to a hundred years ago, to claim a degree of Native ancestry; and

        2. Claims of this nature are common and may well originate from times when folks acting in good faith might plausibly have not known so much about their own ancestry as we do now; so

        3. Shame on everyone involved for making such a big deal out of it in Senator Warren’s case; she never claimed membership in a tribe and is very far from the first person in politics to enjoy a bit of dubiously-earned cultural cachet. The President claims the cultural cachet of Horatio Alger with his “pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” story which as it turns out is totally bullshit. Senator Warren’s occasional social identification as having Cherokee ancestry appears roughly equivalent, if not lesser than, Trump’s prevarication about himself.

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        • Senator Warren’s occasional social identification as having Cherokee ancestry appears roughly equivalent, if not lesser than, Trump’s prevarication about himself.

          What do we think about Trump and his ethics?

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          • Lying about how much of his money he actually made? I care more than a small amount because his business acumen is part of his statement of qualification for the Presidency.

            But I don’t care as much as a large amount because, especially at this point, it’s a) part of a morass of many other more profound ethics issues, and b) his skill at Presidenting, or lack thereof, is now on display.

            Elizabeth Warren is not offering Native ancestry as a qualification for the Presidency. It goes to her general propensity for veracity, I suppose. I put it somewhere around the level of “…But I never inhaled.”

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    • Your aunt’s wholly European genome does not necessarily contradict her father’s claim to be one-sixteenth Native. It’s not like diluting paint – it’s more like shuffling cards. As far as I know, my brother and I are entirely European in ancestry. My sister-in-law is a mulatto (and a nuyorican), and her two beautiful daughters are therefore quadroons, to use accurately an old-fashioned and no doubt potentially offensive term. One of my nieces has “skin the color mocha”, just like her mother, and the other is a blonde white woman. The latter has a picture on her facebook page of herself, her mother, and her maternal grandmother – with the caption “I am NOT adopted”.

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    • This doesn’t mean as much as you think, though. My mom and I both did DNA tests and she was three percent Native American and I was zero. Genes don’t get handed down in the fractional ways that we imagine that they do, because of the way chromosomes get shuffled. They don’t just get divvied up equally and handed down in proper proportions to everyone precisely the same. So in a generation it’s possible to have a real genetic link that’s no longer visible.

      It doesn’t mean that genealogically you don’t have that heritage or that anyone was lying, just that it wasn’t among the genes that happened to get handed down to your aunt. Other relatives very well may have some of that DNA or it may not have been handed down to anyone because everyone got other genes instead.

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      • I did the Ancestry thing and had <1% Jewish ancestry. My maternal aunt had 2% on her test but this doesn't tell me a lot. In theory I could have gotten 0% from her side of the family and my <1% from somewhere in my dad's line. With as much German heritage as I have on both sides of the family, it's actually surprising we didn't see more Jewish ancestry.

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        • They have recently updated the Ancestry results in a really dramatic way so you might want to go back and check again because mine ended up being a lot different than they were at first. I had some very low confidence findings disappear completely and I suddenly became substantially Scandinavian when I wasn’t before.

          Uff da.

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          • Thank you so much for letting me know about that! I just checked and yes, some significant changes. I previously had 16% Scandinavian which is now 5% Sweden and 2% Norway. I guess the rest was absorbed into Germanic Europe or Northwestern Europe.

            I always wondered about the Scandinavian one. I’m pretty knowledgeable about my genealogy and I am not aware of any Scandinavian in the last 200 years. I wondered if that came from Vikings colonizing England and Ireland, but man, that’s over 1000 years ago. Seems unlikely that would still be showing up in a test like this. I’ve tried research how far back the tests go and it’s a bit unclear, so I guess it’s possible.

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  3. Given the history of how whites have treated Native Americans, having a distant Native American ancestor in your very white family tree may not be a good thing. It might be a random tale of true love, but it may also very well be a tale of rape and servitude.

    Probably best not to play that card unless you are very comfortable with it’s pedigree.

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  4. I am really torn on this. I think claiming this, it the ways shown above via the Harvard bio and the cookbook, is a bit dishonest. On the other hand, I am one-fourth Jewish. Now, I knew my grandfather and the history of that part of the family is very well known, both to me and the world at large.

    I don’t consider myself a Jew and am very careful to say and write Jew-ish, as I think that is the handiest way to describe myself on the rare occasions that it comes up. Judaism swirls around my mother’s side of the family among the old and dying out generation to such an extent that to me it is background noise. And I also know that, do to my grandfathers Jewishness, if I had lived in Nazi Germany, I would not have been sent to an extermination camp, but would have simply been chemically castrated and enslaved. For I am 1/4th Jewish in this regard.

    All that to say that sometimes these things, the little tales that you have been told or what not, also form part of your identity. For good and ill. I think that to a certain degree, this has informed her identity in a way that makes it important to her, and is what has driven her to be the woman she is today.

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  5. Elizabeth Warren has released a tweet:

    I won't sit quietly for @realDonaldTrump's racism, so I took a test. But DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don't list myself as Native in the Senate.— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) October 15, 2018

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  6. I haven’t done a tally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are literal millions of white people who claim to have some Native American ancestry but in fact have less than Warren does.

    Just the opposite. The typical white American has MORE (not less) native blood than Warren does.

    Warren’s failing, if she is to be credited one at all, is no more than theirs.

    If memory serves, her “failing” is she used Affirmative Action to her advantage with a false claim.

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    • Just the opposite. The typical white American has MORE (not less) native blood than Warren does.

      But not a full DNA sequence like she has, which suggests a relatively recent ancestor.

      If memory serves, her “failing” is she used Affirmative Action to her advantage with a false claim.

      It doesn’t serve. There is no evidence she ever benefitted from AA.

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        • IIRC, she didn’t materially benefit from the claim, but Harvard tried to benefit from her claim, which is how it came to the fore.

          The WSJ walked us through this a while back.

          Yes, Harvard benefited from her claim… but that was apparently part of how she was able to be there. Her professional specs were substantially lower than normal for what she did.

          Apparently its unusual for Harvard to reach out to the University of Pennsylvania when recruiting Profs. So being an Indian opened doors when it was convenient.

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            • The Harvard hiring committee says her ethnicity never came up.

              We hear this all the time out of Harvard on any subject related to race. The Harvard approach to Affirmative Action is to pretend they’re not lowering/raising their standards.

              So magically all Asians score rotten on the personality test and we’re just supposed to pretend it has nothing to do with their skin color and Harvard isn’t thinning their numbers to make room for others. The reverse is true for Indians and Blacks when they’re wildly successful on subjective tests.

              If Harvard is bragging about getting a Indian Law Prof, then the way to bet is yes, they knew, and it came up. If she’s from a backwater that Harvard normally ignores, then the way to bet is yes, it mattered.

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              • So magically all Asians score rotten on the personality test and we’re just supposed to pretend it has nothing to do with their skin color and Harvard isn’t thinning their numbers to make room for others. The reverse is true for Indians and Blacks when they’re wildly successful on subjective tests.

                The fact that you’ve left whites out of this equation tells me a lot about where you are coming from on these issues.

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                • The fact that you’ve left whites out of this equation tells me a lot about where you are coming from on these issues.

                  Weirdly this sort of thing is mostly a non-issue for whites.

                  Asians take it on the chin.

                  Blacks “benefit” a lot (although it’s mostly immigrant or high Soc-Economic Blacks)… and “benefit” includes problems from being mismatched.

                  Whites don’t suffer/benefit much.

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                  • Whites don’t suffer/benefit much.

                    Of course whites benefits. You’ve noted that the percentage of Asians is much less than it would be if Harvard and other such institutions went purely on grades and test scores. But for some reason, you’ve decided that only blacks are benefiting. For some reason you’ve decided that “affirmative action” is a benefit, but the space set aside for legacies and the children of wealthy donors is not.

                    Do the math. Here is the ethnic breakdown of Cal Tech, which has no affirmative action:

                    Asian – 43%
                    White – 29%
                    Hispanic – 12%
                    Black – ~1%

                    The rest is unaccounted for, but the story is pretty clear. When you just go by grades and test scores the over-representation of Asians swamps both black and white admissions. It’s the same story at Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools in NYC that are 2/3 to 3/4 Asian in a city that is 12% Asian.

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                    • Dark Matter: Whites don’t suffer/benefit much.

                      j r: Do the math. Here is the ethnic breakdown of Cal Tech, which has no affirmative action:

                      Asian – 43%
                      White – 29%
                      Hispanic – 12%
                      Black – ~1%

                      I like doing math. You’re missing an “Unknown” of 15%. Harvard didn’t mention how many are White/Unknown so I’ll copy Cal Tech’s.

                      Harvard Ethnicity: https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/admissions-statistics

                      African American: 15.2%
                      Asian American: 22.9%
                      Hispanic or Latino: 12.3%
                      Native American: 1.9%
                      Native Hawaiian: 0.4%
                      Unknown: 15% (assumed)
                      White: 32.3% (calculated)

                      So within the margin of error/chance/choice, there is no difference between White enrollment at Harvard and White enrollment at CalTech.

                      Even if we assume these numbers are far more predictive than I expect, changing White enrollment from 32% to 29% is a 10% drop, while Blacks+Indians would see something like a 95% drop.

                      From a “white” perspective, this doesn’t look like a serious issue.

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                      • The Harvard link that you gave doesn’t give a number for whites. I can’t comment on your numbers for whites, because I don’t know the source.

                        But, the same site where I got the Cal Tech info gives the number for whites at Harvard at 42% and Asian at 17%: https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/harvard-university/student-life/diversity/

                        If Harvard is unfairly keeping Asian admission low, it’s doing it for two reasons: to keep minority enrollment up (i.e. affirmative action) and to keep white enrollment up (i.e. legacies and the children of the wealthy/connected). You’re only complaining that one of these is unfair.

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                        • The Harvard link that you gave doesn’t give a number for whites. I can’t comment on your numbers for whites, because I don’t know the source.

                          The source is “calculated” based on Harvard’s info. The total percentage of students is 100%. Harvard didn’t give numbers for “white” or “unknown” so I assumed their unknown matched Cal Tech’s and everything which remained was White. This probably results in over-counting whites at Harvard but that’s just another reason to think it’s not a big issue.

                          But, the same site where I got the Cal Tech info gives the number for whites at Harvard at 42% and Asian at 17%:

                          Presumably Harvard’s numbers for itself are better (likely Cal Tech’s for Harvard are dated). We really should be comparing numbers from the same year.

                          You’re only complaining that one of these is unfair.

                          I’m talking about icebergs and you’re telling me I’m ignoring ice cubes. Yes, I am. Black enrollment is twenty times greater at Harvard then it would be if the system were merit based. White enrollment’s increase is somewhere between an extra ten percent and zero. So it rounds to zero in the larger picture, especially when compared to a 20x increase.

                          You’re engaged in “whataboutism”. This is not to say Harvard isn’t favoring legacies and so forth, or that it hits the radar as fair, but society has a hierarchy of evil, and we have major laws outlawing what Harvard is doing to the Asians for darn good reason.

                          Further, 29% of Harvard’s student body is legacy. We need a lot more data to fully figure out what’s going on there. If Harvard went full merit, having the White student body to drop a few percentage points (the difference between Harvard and Cal Tech) seem reasonable, but it seems unreasonable to think Whites disappear from Harvard’s campus in total (see also Cal Tech).

                          So… does Harvard define “legacy” so loosely that an absurd number of people are? Do people like Obama have the ability to give their kids extreme educational advantages and there’s not a lot of difference between “merit” and “legacy” by the time they get to Harvard?

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      • But not a full DNA sequence like she has,

        I get what a full gene (out of the 46) would mean, and I also get that the Press is mostly English majors, but the numbers I’m seeing suggest less than a full gene.

        (wiki) …the results of the test mean that Warren is likely between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American.

        4-5 generations back is clearly a full gene match and is how we find serial killers from their their distant blood relatives. 6-10 generations back seems less than that, especially when that might mean “generations back from someone who was 1/32 (but part of the tribe) himself”.

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  7. So, why are we not talking about Kevin McCarthy?

    http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-na-pol-mccarthy-contracts-20181014-story.html

    A company owned by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s in-laws won more than $7 million in no-bid and other federal contracts at U.S. military installations and other government properties in California based on a dubious claim of Native American identity by McCarthy’s brother-in-law, a Times investigation has found.

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  8. What Does it Mean that Elizabeth Warren has a Native American Ancestor?

    I think it means that our political discourse is hopelessly stuck in a seemingly endless negative feedback loop of in-group virtue signaling and inane theatrics and that it is completely inadequate at addressing the myriad of very real collective action problems that will most likely mean a substantially worse off quality of life for future generations of Americans.

    But maybe President Warren will fix all that. After all, she’s been one of the best senators that Facebook has ever had.

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  9. her claim was likely made in good faith.

    In the end, this is what it comes down to — if you think it was honest, then it was no big deal. If you think it was because she wanted to gain an advantage from it, then she’s fair game for criticism. There’s no way to know what was actually in her head, so we can each go with whatever we prefer to believe.

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  10. I think the test established that she has no genetic Cherokee ancestry, as that would’ve been far more recent than 1 part in 1024, given that she’d claimed that her parents had to elope because her dad’s family, while in Oklahoma, said her mother was Cherokee and refused permission to marry. That story itself turns out to be a lie based on period newspaper accounts of the wedding, but if we have to go back six to ten generations, any Indian ancestry would likely have been from tribes along the Atlantic coast. It could even have been ancestry from a South American Indian whose children were brought back to Europe. Heck, the British royal family probably has more non-European ancestry than Warren thanks to Kate being descended from someone from India.

    Most American whites have more Native American ancestry than Warren. Virtually all non-Amish Mexicans do.

    Vice President of the United States Charles Curtis, who had also been president pro tem of the Senate, didn’t need to invent native American ancestry because he was descended from two chiefs, his mother was Kaw and Osage, he grew up on a reservation, and English was his third language, after Kansa and French. He was elected to the House in 1892 and won re-election six times, as an Indian who grew up on a reservation, by the people of Kansas. The Curtis Act of 1898 allowed Oklahoma to become a state. The Kansas legislature elected him to the US Senate twice, and then the people of Kansas, with the direct election of Senators, elected him too. In Washington, the whites elected him Republican whip and then majority leader in the Senate.

    Somehow all this laid the grondwork for Warren claiming that her father’s family wouldn’t let her father marry an Indian, and that she’s an Indian.

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      • Oh? It’s like claiming your ancestor from the early 1700’s was an Apache, when white Americans hadn’t met them that far back.

        Her claim was that her Oklahoma mother was so obviously Cherokee that his dad’s family wouldn’t condone the marriage, yet her mother would likely only have been 1 part in 256 or 512, and you’d have to go back almost all the way to Plymouth Rock to find one of her ancestors who was Native American.

        She is “whiter” than average.

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        • I think George is basically right here, but I guess it’s possible that one of her ancestors married someone of Spanish descent, and the Spanish did interact with the Cherokee much earlier. With that said, George is also correct that it is very unlikely her ancestor looked Cherokee that many generations later.

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  11. While we’re expressing our divergent opinions, here’s one assertion I’d like to comment on:

    If someone tells you they are a man when they look like a woman, the only reasonable response is to believe they are a man unless you want to demand they show you proof.

    In my view, what’s “reasonable” depends on the circumstances. What is at stake here? Writing Mr. instead of Ms. in front of their name is one thing. Athletic competition, or medical treatment, raises different issues. Do I believe Caitlyn Jenner is a woman? In some sense, yes; in other ways, no, not really.

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  12. I see the whole affair as yet another sign that the only hope for America on the question of race is de-escalation of the rhetoric and renewed focus on the economics. That means on all sides. Calling her Pocahontas or Fauxcahontas or whatever is juvenile, and speaks poorly of the intellects of those who do it. For those who disagree with her politics, the line of attack should be on the merits of her policy positions. If conservatives don’t want to be called racists there is some low hanging fruit right in front of them.

    Of course, the asinine stuff from the right probably wouldn’t catch nearly as much if we didn’t have a bunch of ivy leaguers grossly inflating the importance of racial identity, or flat out making up identities, to cover for the fact that they’re by and large a bunch of rich people doing well in the American system. I mentioned on the other thread that my family did the 23&me thing a couple years ago. According to the results I have some sub-Saharan African ancestry (very small, >5%). This wasn’t entirely surprising, given that a branch of my family is from the deep South. But if I ever used that fact to claim any social benefits or moral authority on anything I would fully expect and deserve all the ridicule I got.

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  13. atomickristin: Genes don’t get handed down in the fractional ways that we imagine that they do, because of the way chromosomes get shuffled. They don’t just get divvied up equally and handed down in proper proportions to everyone precisely the same. So in a generation it’s possible to have a real genetic link that’s no longer visible.

    This is true of culture too. My husband’s mother is visibly Native American and growing up everyone knew her family was mixed. Although she claims they never experienced any prejudice growing up, her parents did face some social pressure when they married (my husband’s parents did not, however.) She married a white guy and they live(d) a largely white lifestyle. Although her ethnic heritage is still important to her, neither of her kids care about it. One of her brothers embraced his Native heritage and was a low-level activist and even adopted Native children from their dad’s tribe.

    Does one of them “deserve” their heritage more than the other?

    IDK, this all starts to get really weird for me when we’re deciding who “gets to” self-ID as some genetic group and who doesn’t. Whether it’s based on genes or culture/activism.

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  14. What does it mean that Elizabeth Warren (like every other native Oklahoman I have ever met) has some Native American ancestry? It means nothing. It’s just a fact. The people who deny that it is a fact, or make an issue of the fact, or make false claims that Warren took advantage of the fact, are the people responsible for this being a thing.

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    • There are people who believe that Elizabeth Warren torpedoed her 2020 presidential ambitions.

      It’s hard to believe that that would be the case when all she did was tell people that she, like every other native Oklahoman you’ve ever met, had a Native American ancestor somewhere between 6 and 10 generations back.

      Did you hear the rumor that she claimed to be a Person of Color? Or had that rumor not made it to your neck of the woods?

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      • I had heard a great many rumors about a great many things. All I know to be a fact is that she claimed some Native American ancestry, which is true. The more lurid rumors about what else she claimed, or whether she took unfair advantage of this fact, as best I have been able to determine, were false. It’s true that if enough people believe them, they could well damage her 2020 run — though the sort of people who would believe such things on the available evidence wouldn’t vote for her anyway.

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        • Here’s some available evidence.

          You’ll probably want to read the paragraphs around this excerpt, but here’s the excerpt:

          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.

          The Boston Globe reported that Harvard listed Elizabeth Warren as a “Person of Color” according to their federally mandated diversity statistics. Here, let me quote that paragraph as well:

          But for at least six straight years during Warren’s tenure, Harvard University reported in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman in its senior ranks at the law school. According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves.

          Is this new information for you?
          Do you consider this information to be among the “false” information you’ve already been able to dismiss?

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          • What Harvard did with the information, a well-known story, is on Harvard. There is no evidence that Warren herself unfairly profited from her Native American ancestry. You do understand the difference, I think.

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            • What Harvard did with the information, a well-known story, is on Harvard.

              “Story” implies she was claiming some distant ancestor was Indian.

              My expectation is she actively had to check the “I’m an Indian” box on a form for it to count.

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              • The way those boxes are presented is usually studiously, IMO intentionally, both wide open and neutral.

                “Do you have any identification with any of the following ethnicities?” sort of a thing.

                Not “Do you primarily identify as:”

                Or “Your parents’ ethnic identities include:”

                I am quite aware of this because I know and appreciate that I have Keralan ancestry, something I learned the details of only in adulthood (through the power of digitization of old texts, interestingly, NOT through the power of DNA testing… said ancestor’s husband wrote a 3 volume memoir that was in some college library somewhere…. so suddenly people had access to WAY more information about the people that were just names and rumors to those of us still living, before) – and I am quite intentional about when and where I include a checkmark for the South Asian or Indian or whatever they’re calling it this week box, vs where I only check the Caucasian one. Mostly I don’t check it, but there are times where it’s relevant to what is being asked (eg medical records, or census, where it seems useful to be as inclusive as possible) and then I will. Never do I think that doing so makes me Keralese in some culturally relevant or sociologically relevant way. Just, sometimes it still matters.

                Now that said, one of the places I would *never* check it (which, as I said, is the majority of places) is on my work’s forms about diversity, because I am quite aware that they will use my honesty about where ALL my people (that I know about) come from to report stats to the gov’t, and worse yet the public, on how wonderfully diverse they are, and I don’t want to make that job falsely easy for anyone…. diversity should be real, and there’s no meaningful public way in which I am actually “from” South India. In any sense.

                But can I imagine someone, particularly someone nearly twice my age, checking that box out of a sense of inclusivity or trust in family stories, without particularly thinking through the social justice implications of doing so, or thinking that they’re making some strong claim that should stand up to being pulled apart later? Sure, of course I can.

                Doesn’t make me want to vote for her, unless the alternative is Trump, but she’s a freakin’ Harvard Law School professor in her late 70s, I was unlikely to want to vote for her anyway. If I could vote. Which (for entirely reasonable reasons) I cannot.

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                • Er, in her late 60s. But my point is, this particular thing is so much less disqualifying than so many other things about *her*, before we even get started on the vastly more disqualifying things about our present President, that I don’t see why anyone cares about it.

                  Other than her. I can see why she does.

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                • This is exactly right. She checked a box reflecting her sincere and, we now know, true belief that she had Native American ancestry. In the absence of evidence that she profited or intended to profit unfairly from this fact, why would anyone care? No creditable motive suggests itself.

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                • As I look at this more and more, it seems to me that there was a pretty simple way out of the box. All she had to do was say much of what you say above about her family and heritage and oral tradition… and then throw Harvard under the bus.

                  For me the interesting question is why doesn’t she throw Harvard under the bus? They are the ones who used her family, heritage and oral tradition to justify their diversity practices.

                  She has to repent of an embarrassing episode in the 90’s when Harvard made decisions that should embarrass the left… but the thing is, Harvard can double down on self-flagellation because they would agree that they were bad decisions.

                  Of course, it comes at an awkward time for Harvard given the lawsuit from Asian minority students… so maybe Harvard wouldn’t play ball with the obvious way out of the box?

                  The fact that she ignored collaborating with the Cherokee Nation… well, that’s just the sort of thing we’re supposed to judge as faulty executive decision making.

                  But ultimately, she’s not in any way “disqualified” from running by this – that’s purely a function of Age and not having a Kenyan birth certificate – but if the Left can’t see that her handling of the matter exposes what many perceive to be the hypocrisy (maybe even bankruptcy) of identitarian politics as evinced primarily by Harvard (again) which stands as sort of the apogee proxy for establishment institutions … well it isn’t that she can’t run, its that she’s setting herself up to run up hill both directions.

                  She needed to repent that she was used poorly by Harvard (and perhaps other places) to advance a diversity agenda that she as President would see as inadequate and flawed. Then she could be forgiven. Sure, the right get’s a… a… um, token of victory in pointing out Harvard perfidy in the 90’s… but hey, Harvard said some pretty stupid things about the matter. And its pretty easy for Harvard to say, you’re right… we really should have committed to our diversity goals, we too erred. So I circle back to why not throw Harvard under the bus?

                  Doubling down on her parents having to elope because her mother was an Indian? That’s just dumb and something about which she could have remained silent – and which I predict will be the reprise should she move forward with her candidacy. {but that’s just an observation of a second error, not the primary matter}.

                  So, I get what she was trying to do… but I don’t think she executed the optimal strategy and I think she flubbed her deployed strategy in a couple of different ways.

                  Politically, maybe the left will fill in all the gaps I mention above with a kind of mental spackle … I get that … but just because you (the collective left) know that Warren and Harvard are on your team and that they kinda botched this whole thing and really we know they would do the right thing if they could, but they can’t so why bother, and can’t we just move along? Doesn’t mean that the necessary mea culpa(s) won’t be medicine you will be forced to drink from the opposition’s cup at the time of their choosing.

                  So I think some on the left are missing the exposure… it isn’t the Trumpian “Pocahantas” jabs… its the fact that diversity is a rigged game and the people/institutions telling us Normies that diversity is an important thing… well, they 1) write the diversity rules to suit their objectives and 2) don’t really believe in diversity; 3) Use diversity as virtue signaling, not really to effect “change.”

                  Now, I get that the Left might bristle at such nonsense, but, If I may switch analogies, that’s the gap in the line that the Warren bungling opened up… any competent Team Red strategist will run through that hole all day long. There’s daylight to be seen and yards to be gathered. Team Blue either plugs the gap or sits Warren and puts someone in who can.

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                  • Ah, ok. I also feel that she should’ve thrown Harvard under the bus (‘swhy I keep mentioning it).

                    See, I think (at least most of the time, when I’m not busy with self-doubt) that I’m not going to be able to answer things about that “you” because I’m not part of it – I’m part of the part of the left that has been telling the establishment that they:
                    “1) write the diversity rules to suit their objectives and 2) don’t really believe in diversity; 3) Use diversity as virtue signaling, not really to effect “change.””
                    for some time now.

                    So I’m not best placed to understand how they will “cover” for that, other than to keep pointing out how bad the alternative is.
                    Though I keep hoping they’ll listen to the part of the party that is pushing them to not be that way, and put their weight and money there… but that’s probably my Maritime crazy-utopian streak talking. At least it keeps me from despair.

                    And to be fair I feel like the institution where I work has made a significant shift away from that, and toward real inclusion and more care for everybody, not just the people that make them look good with minimal effort on their part*, in just the past 5 years… so there is a piece of me that’s like “hey, if we can turn THIS ship around [not yet done, but happening visibly, maybe we’re at 150 degrees of the 180 on a good day], maybe other ships can be turned around too!!”

                    (And it’s not like all that self-centered, self-focused diversity hasn’t helped at least *some* people… plenty of kids who never could have gone to college under the older systems, and who absolutely ran with the opportunity and became fabulous adult human beings, did get that opportunity in the make us look good era…)

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                    • Well, if they won’t listen to you… they certainly won’t listen to me.

                      But yeah… that’s my main head-scratcher… why not throw Harvard under the bus?

                      I’m genuinely curious whether its a blind-spot or a closed door.

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                  • For me the interesting question is why doesn’t she throw Harvard under the bus? They are the ones who used her family, heritage and oral tradition to justify their diversity practices.

                    We got to this point by making an assumption, i.e. i.e. that Harvard is at fault, that Warren didn’t deliberately turn her oral tradition into a solid written claim that she was an Indian in order to benefit from AA. This would paint her as somewhat naive, but it’s possible.

                    However it’s possible this assumption is incorrect and she can’t throw Harvard under the bus.

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        • And in addition to what Jaybird pointed out, but right now it isn’t whether people will vote for her/believe in her, but rather will people start the groundswell needed to get any campaign going. And this, no matter the direction you look at it from, is not a sign of confidence.

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