Commentary Magazine


Topic: American Indian

Affirmative Action in Action

Elizabeth Warren, the super-liberal Harvard law professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, seems to have gamed the affirmative action system for her own benefit. When she was on her way up the greasy pole of law-school professorships she claimed she belonged to a “minority”–American Indian to be precise. From 1986 to 1995, while teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, she was listed in the Association of American Law Schools’ annual directory of minority law professors. But once she went to work at Harvard, and could no longer benefit by being a minority, she dropped the minority shtick.

The Boston Herald brought this fact to life; her opponent, Scott Brown, pounced, and the Warren campaign has been in damage-control mode ever since. At first they said her Indian ancestry was according to “family lore.” Now, it seems, (one senses an emergency call to a genealogist) her great great great grandmother was Cherokee. So Warren is 1/32 Indian.

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Elizabeth Warren, the super-liberal Harvard law professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, seems to have gamed the affirmative action system for her own benefit. When she was on her way up the greasy pole of law-school professorships she claimed she belonged to a “minority”–American Indian to be precise. From 1986 to 1995, while teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, she was listed in the Association of American Law Schools’ annual directory of minority law professors. But once she went to work at Harvard, and could no longer benefit by being a minority, she dropped the minority shtick.

The Boston Herald brought this fact to life; her opponent, Scott Brown, pounced, and the Warren campaign has been in damage-control mode ever since. At first they said her Indian ancestry was according to “family lore.” Now, it seems, (one senses an emergency call to a genealogist) her great great great grandmother was Cherokee. So Warren is 1/32 Indian.

Does that make her a member of a minority? Well, she’s closer to being Indian than I am, as I have to go back not five generations but 13 to get to my first American Indian ancestor, Pocahontas. (Yes, that Pocahontas. I was nearly named Powhatan, after my great great grandfather, Powhatan Gordon. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and I was named after my mother’s brother instead.) But still, 1/32? As the comedian Susan Vass noted, “Funny, she doesn’t look Siouxish.”

It’s all so reminiscent of the race laws in the old South, South Africa, Nazi Germany and other places no one wants to go back to, only in reverse. Warren Harding was haunted by the rumor that he had a black ancestor. Now a candidate for the Senate has exploited the fact that an ancestor she had never heard of until the day before yesterday was American Indian.

This kerfuffle will all be forgotten in a week, but it exposes vividly the utter bankruptcy of affirmative action.

 

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