Did Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren’s imagination run amok after watching “Soul Man”? A quarter-century ago, C. Thomas Howell played a spoiled white kid who ingests tanning pills and generously applies Jheri Curl to win a blacks-only scholarship to Harvard Law School. A few years later, a whiter-than-Caspar Warren landed a spot on the prestigious law school’s faculty while claiming the red man’s burden. Life imitates art, and bad art at that.
Warren is supposed to be the Democrats’ great white hope in capturing a U.S. Senate seat from Republicans in 2012. Holding 23 of the 33 seats up for grabs, Democrats have little chance to wrest seats from Republicans in Texas, Mississippi, Utah, and most of the other states where Republicans defend. They know the math adds up, and the geography points, to Massachusetts.
It’s too bad for Elizabeth Warren that she couldn’t get the history right. The professor, and the law school that employs her, had long touted her Native American ancestry. But it turns out that the Senate candidate is about as much a Cherokee as Keep America Beautiful’s ’70s-era “Crying Indian.”
When pressed on her roots, Warren lamely cited family lore as evidence of her Indian background. Warren’s campaign could offer no proof of her minority status until a genealogist discovered a great-great-great grandmother listed as a Cherokee on a marriage certificate. Assuming the five-generations-removed ancestor was a full-blooded Indian, the discovery makes Warren 1/32nd Cherokee.
Harvard Law School highlighted Warren as its first American Indian professor. When the school inevitably came under fire for a lack of faculty diversity, administrators invoked Warren’s heritage. “Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women,” the Harvard Crimson reported in 1996, law school spokesman Mike “Chmura said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.” Two years later the paper dubbed Warren “the first woman with a minority background to be tenured” at the law school. Though school spokesmen had once enthusiastically touted Warrren’s background, the present controversy has caused a reassessment. Harvard Law School flak Sarah Marston recently explained to the local press, “The Law School’s current policy is to refrain from publicly commenting about the race or ethnicity of individual faculty members.”
Warren claims she never authorized Harvard to note her ethnicity. But the blue-eyed blonde had listed herself as a minority in the American Association of Law Schools directory from 1986 through 1995—the same year the school bestowed the tenured Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law designation upon her. Despite her earlier public boasts, she told the Boston Herald: “I believe that I was recruited at Harvard because I’m a good teacher and recruited for my other jobs because I do good work.”
If so, why did Warren publicly advertise her “minority” status when seeking work in academia? Why did Harvard repeatedly showcase her as an example of institutional success in recruiting a racially diverse faculty? Why do so many unchecked boxes confront applicants if minority status really plays no role in the hiring process?
What appears as a political scandal is more significantly an academic one. But whereas the controversy may undermine the Democrats’ chances to retain the U.S. Senate, it will likely have no impact on the racially-obsessed hiring policies of top universities. There, affirmative action proves less about minority advancement than about white liberals feeling good about themselves. Rarely does this manifest itself so clearly as the extreme cases in which pale-faced professors such as Ward Churchill and Elizabeth Warren trade on questionable heritages for career advancement. Usually, affirmative action just serves as a way for white liberals to claim that an industry they control differs from the surrounding society that they decry. This can only be achieved through official discrimination (which academics ironically claim plagues the off-campus culture) that they insist not be called “discrimination” on school grounds but rather “affirmative action.”
People so obsessed with superficial characteristics in hiring also tend to be superficial in what passes for them as a minority. The importance is not necessarily hiring an American Indian but the appearance that they have hired an American Indian. Quotas, and the accompanying bragging-point percentages, tend to have that dehumanizing effect. People become statistics.
Elizabeth Warren enjoys a $350,000 academic sinecure and $1.7 million mansion. But she still calls herself a populist. With 31 of 32 roots of her family tree extending to Europe, will she still call herself a “minority”?
A black-faced C. Thomas Howell discovers in “Soul Man” that his racial deceit resulted in his African American love interest losing out on the Harvard Law School scholarship that he had unfairly won. Whose spot did soul-woman Warren pouch?
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