Was it right for Elizabeth Warren to identify as a minority? Will voters care?
A genealogist is supporting Elizabeth Warren's claim of Cherokee ancestry. But what could linger with voters is whether it's right for someone who is 1/32 native American to claim minority status.
In the already intense US Senate race in Massachusetts, a new issue¬†has emerged: Did Democratic hopeful Elizabeth Warren, who claims partial native American ancestry, improperly present herself as a minority to further her academic career?
Ms. Warren's campaign says her Republican rival, incumbent Sen. Scott¬†Brown, is trying to create an issue where none exists.
On Monday, a Massachusetts genealogist entered the fray by citing a¬†century-old document that, if correct, would show Warren to be 1/32 Cherokee in ancestry. That would confirm her statements that, as a¬†youth, she heard relatives discuss ancestral links to Cherokee and¬†Delaware Indians.
It would not necessarily close the matter as an issue in the Senate¬†campaign, however.
Questions would remain, and potentially would resonate with voters,¬†about whether it was appropriate for her to list herself as a minority¬†when her connection to native American identity appears to be so¬†small.
"You don't need to take a DNA test to know that in America, Elizabeth¬†Warren is viewed and treated as a white woman, with all its benefits,"¬†commented¬†Jamarhl Crawford, publisher of the Blackstonian, a news¬†organization serving blacks in Boston.
Warren has said she could not recall ever listing native American background when applying for college or a job, the Boston Herald reported Saturday. The paper said Warren also commented that she didn't have a problem with Harvard Law School citing her background as part of its faculty diversity, but that she didn‚Äôt know until recently that the school had counted her as a minority.
The Brown campaign has been seeking to define Warren as a¬†liberal ideologue, with views more in sync with "Occupy Wall Street"¬†than with mainstream voters. This issue could play into that¬†narrative, if it appears that Warren sought to use a liberal orthodoxy¬†(affirmative action) to promote her own career.
And, regardless of the political stakes, the to-and-fro in recent days¬†points to an interesting question of defining identity.
"The discovery of a great-great-great-grandmother does raise the¬†question of when it becomes unseemly, if not outright deceptive, for¬†someone to claim minority status ‚Äď especially in a profession where¬†ethnic preferences in hiring and promotions are routinely observed,"¬†blogger¬†Vincent Carroll wrote¬†Tuesday for the Denver Post.
He said Warren may land on the spectrum somewhere in between two¬†Colorado figures who became nationally known. One is former University¬†of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who passed himself off as native¬†American with, in Mr. Carroll's words, "no credible basis." The other is¬†former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, "who was three-eighths Northern¬†Cheyenne, [and] proudly touted his Indian ancestry during his tenure¬†in Congress."
Warren's campaign released statements from officials at the¬†universities where she has worked, stating that her purported minority¬†status had nothing to do with decisions to hire her. Those¬†institutions are the University of Texas, University of Pennsylvania,¬†the University of Houston Law Center, and most recently Harvard Law¬†School.
Former Harvard Law Dean Robert Clark, who held that post when Warren¬†was hired in the early 1990s, said "her native American heritage was¬†not a factor in the discussion or the decision."
But the Boston Herald reported that Warren listed herself as a¬†minority from 1986 to 1995, in the Association of American Law¬†Schools' annual directory.
And at least to some degree, Harvard Law School itself claimed Warren¬†as a minority member of its faculty.¬†In the mid-1990s, the Harvard Crimson quoted a¬†school spokesman touting the faculty's diversity, including a¬†reference to one native American (Warren). Another Crimson story¬†called Warren the first woman with a minority background to receive¬†tenure at the school, the Boston Globe reported.