What am I?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this since Elizabeth Warren revealed that she has proof she has a Native American forebear.
As it happens, I am half Armenian, one-quarter English, one-eighth Irish and one-eighth Norwegian.
And, of course, 100% American.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, it was too complicated to explain my fractional family ties, so when people would ask what I was, I’d just say “half Armenian.”
My father, who was born in the Central Valley hamlet of Reedley, used to joke that my Armenian side “is the only half that counts.”
He married a woman who came from outside the tribe — an “odar,” or “other,” as the Armenians say — but I don’t think his parents objected. His family was very busy assimilating.
My mother’s maiden name was Blodgett, and we grew up understanding that her side of the family arrived in the New World early on — aboard the Mayflower.
I grew up being told I was a descendant of the Englishman and Mayflower leader Edward Winslow, who became a governor of Plymouth Colony. I have done no genealogical research, but I have no reason to doubt my mother. I mean, she bestowed the middle name “Winslow” on one of her four kids. What other proof would you need?
And if my provenance goes back to the Mayflower, I am nothing special really, just one of an estimated 10 million people who can claim Pilgrim provenance.
I know of no Native American blood coursing through my veins, though if I had any, I would not expect you to consider me a minority or disadvantaged underdog.
I would not expect to receive no-bid federal contracts, as in the case of William Wages, the brother-in-law of Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who has used a dubious claim of Cherokee heritage to land no-bid federal contracts in Central California.
Nor would I allow myself to be touted as a “woman of color” by any employer looking to boost its diversity bona fides.
Let’s face it: No matter how swarthy my father’s people were, no matter that they ended up on American shores because they were driven by genocidal Turks from their homeland, I’m white.
In my life, I have tacitly or willingly benefited from every privilege that accrues to me because of my skin color.
Which brings me to Elizabeth Warren.
Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, is a fierce and relentless advocate for American consumers. She is an accomplished law professor who helped right the economy in 2008, and championed the creation of a federal Consumer Protection Bureau, which President Trump has gutted. In 2012, she made the leap to politics.
She grew up in Oklahoma, where she and her brothers were told that their mother was descended from the Cherokee and Delaware tribes. Not only that, they were also told that their father’s parents opposed the match because of this blood tie, so their parents eloped.
Over the years, based on this family lore, Warren has claimed to be part Native American. That is hardly nefarious.
“Being Native American has been part of my story I guess since the day I was born,” Warren has said. “These are my family stories, I have lived in a family that has talked about ‘Native American’ and talked about tribes since I was a little girl.”
Where it gets sticky is that, according to the Boston Globe, she identified herself or allowed herself to be identified as Native American three times during her career.
From 1986 to 1995, she listed herself as a minority in the Assn. of American Law Schools. In December 1989, two years after she started teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, she “had her ethnicity changed from white to Native American,” the Globe reported. And, the paper said, four months after she was granted tenure at Harvard, she was described as its first female law professor of color, a fact of which she said she was unaware.
And yet, as a richly reported Boston Globe investigation discovered, “At every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman.”
Enter Trump, whose displays of racism are only exceeded by his viciousness.
For the last two and a half years, he has derided Warren as “Pocahontas,” and offered to give her a million dollars if she could prove she is, as he put it, “an Indian.”
As we know, she took that DNA test, and has been shown to have a Native American forebear — eight to 10 generations back. By any stretch of the imagination, however, that does not give her the right to claim she is a Native American. Warren, let’s face it, is white like me.
She can claim to be a person of color as credibly as Trump can claim to be a self-made billionaire. Or a straight shooter.
Or a champion of women.
Warren was naïve to have raised the notion of her Native American heritage in anything other than private conversation.
But she was downright foolish to get sucked into Trump’s racist, misogynistic game. No one ever comes away clean when they try to beat the gutter king on his own turf.
In addition to giving more ammunition, not less, to the yapping conservative chorus of Warren critics, she has also managed to tick off Native American tribal officials, who are sick of Trump’s racist attacks, tired of white poseurs, and unhappy to be caught in a stupid battle between two political celebrities that will do nothing to advance their interests.
Have we learned nothing from the whackadoodle demands for Barack Obama’s birth certificate?
Did producing the long version of his birth certificate shut Trump up? Of course not.
Trump never cared about where Obama was born. In fact, I swear on Trump’s honor, I’ll give him a million dollars if he can prove he really believed Obama was born in Kenya.
Nor does Trump give a fig about whether Warren has Native American ancestors, which, we now know, she does.
He cares about lobbing insults, about turning her into a caricature in order to undermine her if she runs against him in 2020. “She made up her heritage, which I think is racist,” he once said.
I know some have speculated that Warren’s timing is strategic, aimed at getting this issue off the table if she decides to run against Trump.
I don’t think that’s possible. I mean, good heavens, his fans are still yelling “Lock her up” at rallies, even as members of his own political team are actually sitting in jail.
Lobbing insults is what they do for fun. The fact that insults like “Pocahontas” are racist? So much the better.