Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Don't get me wrong. I love Elizabeth Warren. She has spent her distinguished academic and political career fighting for justice and equity. She sees right through the BS thrown up in justification for plutocracy and talks to people in plain language with no apologies for her progressive beliefs. I think she'd make a great president.

But . . .

I do think that her repeated claims on various official documents that she has Native American heritage -- and even, on her Texas bar application that she is straight up Native American -- are very strange behavior that she has not sufficiently explored and explained in public. She says that according to family lore she has a Native American ancestor at some number of great great great grandparents, and that's why. She even went so far as to get a DNA test which confirms that it might just be true.

No. Just no. That you believe some distant ancestor who you know nothing about and cannot even name was Albanian does not make you in any sense Albanian. I believe I have said something before about the ads for a commercial DNA testing company. In one of them, roughly (and I may have this backwards, doesn't matter) a guy says "I always thought I was German," and he's in leiderhosen and drinking a Lowenbrau with his schnitzel. "It turns out we're Scottish!" and now he's wearing a kilt and dancing the highland fling and learning to play the bagpipes.

What undoubtedly happened (assuming this is not entirely fictitious) is that at some time prior to your collective family memory, some people moved from Scotland to Germany. They learned to speak German, maybe Germanized their name or maybe a daughter married  a German guy. They may even have lived in a Scottish-German ethnic enclave for a generation or two so they married other people of Scottish extraction and reinforced the DNA signal. Then they forgot all about Scotland and some of them moved to the U.S., speaking German, drinking Lowenbrau, and eating schnitzel. They were German. 

In another ad, a woman says, "I always thought I was Latina, but now I know I'm everything!" and up goes a pie chart showing that she has ancestors who are Native American, African American, and European. Lady, that's what Latina means! It's not a specific DNA profile, it's the culture that emerged when Spanish settlers took over countries where indigenous Americans lived, imported African slaves, and they all mixed together. People also came from elsewhere in Europe and Asia, lived in those countries, started speaking Spanish. The great Chilean liberator was named Bernardo O'Higgins for crying out loud.

Ethnicity means identification with an ancestral culture within which you were socialized. It means you grew up with particular cultural influences and incorporate the ethnicity into your identity, world view and associations. Elizabeth Warren had no contact with Native Americans when she was growing up, knew nothing about Native American history or culture, and her life history was not in any way affected by the invisible and meaningless fact that somewhere in a long-lost trunk of her family tree there might have been a guy who was in fact Native American. I'm not saying this is important enough to compromise her candidacy, but it's still pretty weird.


mojrim said...

Not all that unusual. I've known at least a dozen (white) people throughout my life who laid claim to some native ancestry lost in the mists of time. When they do it's invariably because they either don't like/are bored with whiteness or they are shoring up a personal insecurity. Telling others, and internalizing the idea of native ancestry seems to give them a needed ego boostin their teen and early adult years.

ChuckyPeirce said...

Nice clarification of the difference between cultural and genetic ancestry; sorta like the difference between weather and climate.

And, yes, Elizabeth Warren's claim is pretty silly. She should be able make a forthright apology along the lines of, "Yeah, I was really stupid to say that. What the f*** was I thinking?", and move on to the important stuff.

But, no, her career will be forever tainted by this idiocy even though she is one of the few people who can frame liberal views in the kind of simple slogans used so effectively by the retrograde Right. We've turned into a nation of tattletales, more interested in schoolyard gossip than in adult concerns with real consequences.

I've always thought that Huxley's Brave New World, describing a society based on distraction and simple slogans, prophesied a more effective form of mind control than did Orwell's 1984 police state.

That's why we need people like Warren, who can turn the tools of the system back on itself to get us on the path to sanity.

John Bachtell said...

Make a goof thirty years ago in school and you're branded for life.

This PC "gotcha" stuff was designed by the left to personally disqualify political opponents. Now, we're seeing the same applied to a very liberal politician and somehow it's unjust.

I just don't 'get it'.

Cervantes said...

Well yeah, I don't want to make too big of a deal out of it. But I do think she hasn't really processed it properly. She should never have gotten the DNA test, she just should have said, "Well, it was family lore but I should have realized it wasn't really a proper claim for me to make." Then she could have moved on I think.

As far as Gov. Northam's yearbook photo, I do think it's a bigger deal. In the first place, he at first said he was one of the guys in the picture, then has said he wasn't. Huh? He also has made no effort to explain the picture. It really doesn't matter if he's in the photo, the story is that students picked the photos they wanted on their page. He has not explained that or even acknowledged it. I don't know if he should resign under the circumstances but he isn't being up front about it.

John Bachtell said...

If you're favored and you apologize, you're forgiven. Think Robert Byrd, Hillary's "fucking Jew Bastard" remark, Bill's "...he would have been getting coffee for us", Joe Biden's 7-11 comment, etc.

If you're not favored, you can apologize all you want but you will never be forgiven. There is no redemption if you're not a member of the cool kids' party.

It's more a political weapon than an honest issue and everybody knows it.

Mark P said...

@John Bachtell — Well, of course that’s not true. Take Al Franken. He was a pretty good senator, one of the few politicians I ever made a campaign contribution to (despite his not being from my state), but when his scandal broke, he resigned.

John Bachtell said...

Al Franken was tried by a mob. He is a victim, too.

And that's what happens when you actively promote the idea that accusations are as good as facts and fail to defend due process. You get good people getting railroaded.

Cervantes said...

Well, the facts regarding Franken weren't really in dispute. The question in his case was how serious the actions were and whether resignation was disproportionate. My take on it is that it may have been, but it was very important for the Democrats to draw a clear line and not create grey areas. It's too bad, he was a great Senator, but he needed to take one for the team.

mojrim said...

What about the Franken kerfluffle wasn't in dispute? Beyond the photo of a slightly immature though standard for stage people prank, none of it could be confirmed.

Cervantes said...

Here's a lengthy discussion of the Franken matter by Laura McGann. It's very thorough, covers various points of view, but there is no doubt that he habitually engaged in unacceptable behavior and there was no option other than his resignation. I'll give an excerpt just for those who don't have time to read, in an update.