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Elizabeth Warren’s Identity Problem

| October 22, 2018

Elizabeth Warren's odd DNA. (Shutterstock)

Elizabeth Warren’s odd DNA. (Shutterstock)

By Jill Richardson

Elizabeth Warren recently released DNA results as evidence she has a Native American ancestor. Trump, meanwhile, has been referring to Warren as “Pocahontas” to ridicule that claim.

The two show useful examples of different kinds of racism.

Trump’s racism is obvious. He’s using the name Pocahontas as a racial slur. He means to target Warren, but he doesn’t mind being hurtful to Native Americans either.

Trump doesn’t seem to pay much of a price for saying this. His base apparently loves it, and the rest of us seem too numb to be shocked anymore. Trump’s doing exactly what we expect him to do.

Warren’s gotten some criticism too, though.

She’s a progressive Democrat, and her base holds her to a higher standard. They would never vote for Trump anyway, and Warren might run for president in 2020. Warren’s base wants to vote for someone who reflects their values.

But while liberals (specifically, white liberals) usually abhor overt racism, many still practice more subtle forms of it. It’s less obvious than when people use racial slurs or clearly say they do not like a specific ethnic group.

It’s when a white person treats a person of color as if they’re exotic, or fetishizes them. Or when a white person doesn’t notice or care about racial dynamics and inequality because they don’t have to. Or when a white person doesn’t believe a person of color has faced racism just because the white person didn’t see it and has never experienced it themselves.

other-wordsIn this case, Warren is stepping into a sensitive issue. For one thing, what makes someone a Native American?

Do you have to be raised within the culture of your tribe? How can one measure that? Who gets to be enrolled as members of each specific tribe?

Or do you have to have Native American ancestors? What percent of your ancestry must be Native American for you to qualify?

That’s something for Native American tribes to decide for themselves, not for others to speculate on or decide for them.

The point is that Warren stepped into a controversial issue without much sensitivity for the people who are most affected by it.

The Cherokee Nation issued a statement disapproving of Warren’s use of a DNA test. One Native American journalist, Jacqueline Keeler, said that Warren’s use of DNA as evidence reinforces the idea of Native Americans as a race and thereby undermines their claims of citizenship in sovereign nations.

In this case, the liberal white racism may seem subtle: It was Elizabeth Warren thinking she had the right to speak on Native American identity without checking with Native Americans and becoming educated about the issues related to it.

Some also say it was Elizabeth Warren using Native American identity to bolster her own political career without concern for how her use of it might harm Native Americans.

However, there are three takeaways here. One is that if you identify as a white liberal, there are good odds that you could do some learning about racial issues and how to combat racism.

The second is that Warren could try to set things right now by educating herself and learning how she can best advance the interests of Native Americans in her political career. She should listen to Native American leaders.

The third is that what Trump did was worse. Far worse. We must remember that, too.

jill richardson other words flaglerlive Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.”

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18 Responses for “Elizabeth Warren’s Identity Problem”

  1. jake says:

    If this author thinks Trump calling Warren “Pocahontas”, is worse than Warren lying about her heritage, using it to gain employment, fostering credibility with voters, and within her political party, then this author should re-examine her own agenda.

  2. Mark says:

    They’re “values” include lying, using unproven facts to take advantage of the system, and controlling the masses to gain and stay in power. I guess I’m racist against liberals. Sue me. If I said you were a snadcrab would I be racist? Do you know what the term even implies? If you call me Frenchy are you racist? Probably not. Warren cares about native Americans about as much as she cares for Americans who disagree with her ideas. She doesn’t! Now, if she gives me free stuff, I’m in!

  3. Ann Marie Marszalek says:

    Jill Richardson you sound like a complete ass. Don’t speak for everyone I voted for Trump I am not a racist. Trump calls it as he she’s it. Get a grip our country is going to shit because of all the cry babies. Stand for our flag. Hand over your heart be proud to be an American.

  4. Fredrick says:

    His base is not so narrow minded that they believe calling her Pocahontas is a racial slur.. She checked the box on her applications… she is a fraud. Please run in 2020 Lizzy, PLEASE.

  5. Vinny says:

    1/1000 24th ………………..yep , a real INJUN there !

  6. Richard says:

    Why is that you completely ignored the MAIN reason for Warren claiming to be of Native American Heritage? She did it to advance herself in her education, career and life. Lies, lies and more lies. I, along with millions of other Americans, probably have more Native American DNA than she does at 1/1024 of a percent. C’mon, give me a F’ing break. Can I now claim to be Native American when filling out questionaire’s and documents?

  7. Jim O says:

    Ann Marie, I really liked your post. Spot on. Every time I read an article from Jill it is the same race based bashing and Trump hating non-sense.

  8. Agkistrodon says:

    SHE is trying to AVOID the fact that SHE is WHITE! She cannot, and SHE is a LIAR.

  9. Keep Flagler Beautiful says:

    It is so offensive that Warren took part in a cookbook called “Pow Wow Chow,” which is a horrible name to begin with. Warren is no different than that woman who tanned herself, frizzed her hair and passed herself off as an African American, even working for the NAACP. After her fraud was exposed, her lame defense was that she “identified” as African American. Yeah, I identify as a Martian, but that doesn’t make me one, and it doesn’t make Elizabeth Warren a Native American, either. Every person I know who has taken the Ancestry DNA test has had some very minute amount of “Native American” show up in the results, and that’s because they may have Central American blood from many centuries ago. Fact: There are no Native American DNA samples in ANY of the DNA testing databanks to which customers’ DNA samples are compared, and that’s because Native American tribes do not want any part of it. They don’t want anyone capitalizing on the possibility that they may have an infinitesimal amount of Native DNA from a very distant ancestor. They do NOT determine Native heritage by DNA. Any so-called “Native” DNA in Elizabeth Warren’s profile would be from somewhere else in the Americas.

  10. Sherry says:

    Give me the hnesty of Elizabeth Warren any day! Although the trump cult will not care about the facts. . .

    Here is Elizabeth Warren’s Politifact Analysis on her honesty:

    Here is trumps (69% “pants on Fire”, “False” or “mostly False”) :

  11. oldtimer says:

    I was born here so were my parents, I guess that makes me native american! Just saying

  12. gmath55 says:

    So, if I drive a Jeep Cherokee does that make me a Cherokee?

  13. Percy's mother says:

    Sherry dear

    What’s your point? So what’s a link to a few comments by Elizabeth Warren supposed to prove?

    Fact is she lied repeatedly about her heritage in order to gain advantage as a minority which served to put her to the head of the line in getting a position at several learning institutions. AND then even contributed recipes in the “Pow Wow Cookbook” again posing as a Native American.

    A lie is a lie, and a lie is never forgotten. She will always carry the reputation of a liar. Most importantly, she may have taken jobs away from qualified true minorities.

    So spend the day searching for links to skewed political sites that serve the need to reinforce your views. I’ll be waiting to see what you come up with. OR, perhaps take a vacation to Venezuela, a once vibrant and wealthy country, now destroyed and trashed by your favorite group.

  14. Brad says:

    I am a person with Indigenous ancestry and an enrolled member of a federally-recognized Indian tribe. I also identify as Indigenous or Native American with regard to my identity and heritage. These are three different things, not one and the same.

    The standard legal way of determining Indigenous ancestry, blood quantum calculation, is a non-Indigenous method that was never employed by traditional Indigenous tribes. In fact, blood quantum calculations were developed by the federal government and forced on Indigenous tribes as a way of determining eligibility for tribal membership. Today there are 580 Indigenous tribes in the U.S., the Indigenous population is estimated at a little over 6 million, and there are very few full-blooded tribal members. Unless full-bloods have children with full-bloods from the same tribe, the blood quantum of the majority of tribal members will gradually decrease over the generations, eventually to a point of non-existence. Then the tribe disappears. This is why blood quantum calculations were imposed on us to begin with – a subtle form of genocide. And whether or not a tribe is legally recognized as a tribe in the first place is determined by the U.S. Department of the Interior. There are tribes that have been around for millennia on this continent who still are not federally recognized, and people with Indigenous ancestry who are not admitted into tribal membership because they cannot meet the criteria set by the tribe, a process originally imposed by the government. So you have the cruel irony of the oppressor determining the legitimacy of the oppressed.

    Claiming and living out Indigenous heritage and identity in this country is another thing altogether. How can you do that within the culture of the U.S. general population that doesn’t acknowledge, understand or appreciate our traditional ways? Let’s face it – we’re not supposed to be here. We were supposed to disappear, either through annihilation or assimilation into the dominant general society. But we’re still here. And society doesn’t know what to think of us or what to do with us. We are reduced to stereotypes and sports mascots. For the most part we are forgotten. And for good reason – we are a reminder that an awful genocide, the worst and longest lasting one in the history of humankind, took place right here in America. And our government was the perpetrator.

    The current U.S. president doesn’t have a clue about Indigenous Native Americans. Nor does he care. For the same reason that most people in this country don’t care – he doesn’t have to, there are no consequences for him. When he challenged Senator Warren to take a DNA test (a non-Indigenous method) to “prove” that she’s Indian, he did it mainly to humiliate her (if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s destroying the dignity of others). But he also made himself out to look like a fool in the eyes of Indigenous people by demonstrating his ignorance about the establishment of Indigenous heritage. So what did Senator Warren do? She accepted the challenge and showed him the results of her DNA test, which indicated that she has Indigenous ancestry. That’s all the president asked for, and he got it.

    I have no problem with what Senator Warren did. Can she claim to have Indigenous tribal membership, heritage and identity? No, just the ancestry. But that is all that she was claiming, nothing else. I read the rebuke given to her by the secretary of the Oklahoma Cherokee tribe, and I do not understand why he went after her and not the president. Perhaps he is a Republican.

    As to whether or not Senator Warren has “benefited” from her claims, I have heard that she was awarded a scholarship that required Indigenous Native American ancestry as a qualification. So what! And good for her! I have served on numerous scholarship boards over the years, and I can tell you that, unless the qualifications specifically required proof of tribal enrollment, she legitimately qualified for it. And at least the money went to somebody. Sadly, millions of scholarship dollars that could be awarded to Indigenous students in this country go unclaimed every year because it’s simply not applied for, not because it’s taken away by anyone undeserving.

    This entire controversy is a clear demonstration of the ignorance and prejudice of the American public regarding this continent’s original Indigenous inhabitants and our current situation. I appreciate what the author of the article tried to do – bring attention to a very complex and commonly misunderstood topic. The previous comments posted here demonstrate just that. They are so appalling I can’t even bring myself to read most of them.

  15. Sherry says:

    According to the fact checking by Politifact. . . the FACT is trump lies 70% of the time!!!! “A lie is a lie, and a lie is never forgotten”!

    trump will “always carry the reputation of a liar”! Not just a liar but . . . according to the sheer volume of his lies. . . a pathological one. Politifact is an Pulitzer award winning, highly credentialed organization.

    To the FOX cult. . . here is the Politifact “fact check” rating on FOX. . . where a whopping 74% of their statements are rated “pants on Fire”, “False” or “Mostly False”:

    During my very extensive travels, my time living with and getting to know the citizens of the Democratic Socialism countries of Sweden and Norway has been a real, “first person” education. Of course, they are countries with higher quality educational and health care systems than the USA. Also, gun violence is much lower than in the USA. They generally have a very high standard of living and enjoy peaceful and safe communities. The citizens of those countries vote on national referendums, where they have “direct input” into political decisions important in their daily lives. Their perspective is most often for “the common good”. They seem to genuinely care for their neighbors and community in a happy, loving way. Even the way they drive is courteous and respectful.

    This, while many of the uneducated in our community think Socialism and Communism is the same thing.

    Just continue to live in the pathetic tiny world of the fear and hate filled FOX/trump cult. I choose to happily open my heart and mind to the myriad of wonderful people and cultures on the entire planet earth.

  16. Sherry says:

    Don’t like Pulitzer prize winning Politifacts pointing out that trump lies 70% of the time? Try the “Associated Press” Fact Checking:

  17. jake says:

    @sherry, the discussion is about Warren, a known liar, socialist, and self-absorbed irritating contemptible person.

  18. gmath55 says:

    All False statements involving Barack Obama from the so called Pulitzer prize winning Politifacts. Four pages worth.

    Looks like everybody lies. So, what’s the point?

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