Earlier today Jazz wrote about Elizabeth Warren’s semi-commitment that she’s not running for president in 2020. She also made some news on another front this morning. Asked if she would consider taking a DNA test to settle the issue of her Native American heritage, as one Massachusets paper recommended last week, Warren declined.
The full Meet the Press interview with Warren didn’t air this morning but is available online. Chuck Todd asked Warren if she would take the DNA test as the Berkshire Eagle suggested. She responded by telling the story she has told before about her family history, i.e. her father’s family was opposed to him marrying her mother because she was part Native American.
After telling the story Chuck Todd pointed out that he had a great-grandmother who “swore we were related to Robert E. Lee.” But his grandmother did some genealogical research and found that, while they did have some relations named Lee, they were not related to the general. “What’s wrong with knowing?” Todd asked.
“Look, I do know. I know who I am,” Warren responded. “Never used it for anything. Never got any benefit from it anywhere,” she added.
Except, of course, she doesn’t know. Warren is sticking to the story she was told, but that doesn’t make it true. The DNA test would settle the issue once and for all. But, as I wrote last month, it’s clear Warren is not looking for the truth. She’s making a cynical political play to have Native Americans back her story whether it’s true or not. If enough of the right voices agree to backstop her, the truth won’t matter.
Did she benefit from her claimed status? The person who helped recruit Warren and bring her to Harvard has said he wasn’t aware of her claimed heritage at the time:
A directory of law professors listed Warren as a minority from 1986 to 1995, just before she joined Harvard Law School. When the claim emerged as a flash point in her 2012 Senate race, Charles Fried, a Harvard Law School professor who recruited her, said her ethnic status had nothing to do with how she got the job. “That’s totally stupid, ignorant, uninformed and simply wrong,” he told the Associated Press at the time. “I presented her case to the faculty. I did not mention her Native American connection because I did not know about it.”
But it’s worth noting that Harvard did list Warren as Native American on official EEOC forms. Someone, probably Warren herself, told them about this by checking a box on a form. The school also used her minority status to publicly defend its commitment to diversity when it was attacked in the pages of the NY Times by former professor Derrick Bell. The Harvard Crimson also counted Warren as the first in the slow process of recruiting more minority women to the faculty:
Guinier will become the first female African-American professor in the 181-year history of HLS. A former Clinton nominee and former NAACP lawyer and an expert on voting rights and civil-rights law, Guinier is a welcome addition to the HLS faculty. However, her appointment is the first in what continues to be a painfully slow process of bringing professors of minority ethnicities to the Harvard University faculty.
Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American.
Warren may or may not have benefited from her claimed heritage but it seems Harvard did. There’s no good reason not to settle this once and for all. Warren could deliver the rebuke of all rebukes to Trump by posting her DNA test results to back up her claims. But it seems she’d rather stick with the unverified story she was told as a child.
Warren gave basically the same answer when asked about taking the DNA test on Fox News Sunday. In an age of hypersensitivity to claims of cultural appropriation, it’s odd that she thinks her family lore ought to be enough to put this to rest.