I feel for Elizabeth Warren. I really do. My family has talked glibly of our Native American ancestry, even pointing to a great-grandmother named Hannah as being “half-Cherokee.” We don’t have any genealogical evidence to back this up–well, at least I don’t. My own grandmother went through the lengthy task of documenting as much as she could of our family tree when she was alive, but I was never able to really make much sense of her notes. A cousin even once suggested that I take advantage of an Indian scholarship fund, which I could qualify for as long as I could prove I was 1/16th Indian, any tribe would do. I didn’t take advantage of that program.
And that’s one of the differences that doesn’t make me feel too bad for her. I could have strung together my grandmother’s notes into enough evidence for the scholarship, but even then I would have used it to fund my community college education. I didn’t chose to do so for the same reasons I never asked a man to pay my bills, even though plenty of people, including some of my dates, encouraged me to. It didn’t feel right. I assumed I lived in a honest world (gawd, I was so naive) and that playing by the rules would get me somewhere. I was earnest enough to believe that gaming the system would hurt people such scholarships were actually intended for. I’m still that earnest.
If Elizabeth Warren had claimed her heritage and not profited from it, she would not be in the situation she is today. Identity envy is common. We see it every day in the white kids with their rap gear and black women with dyed blond hair, and among white women who seek exotic lips and tans, and the list goes on. It’s even standard operating procedure when trying to gain entry into some of the best colleges and jobs in the country, according to some. That the elite have figured out how to game the system should not surprise anyone. It’s what the elite do from time immemorial. Inherited advantage is part of the systems of privilege that exist in every culture. What is unusual is that the elite are not often put in a position where their behavior is noted and analyzed; they much prefer to be the ones analyzing those above them, but especially those below them.
We should, I suppose, thank Elizabeth Warren for bringing this travesty (the most appropriate word for this form of identity envy, especially in light of this) to our attentions. Now we can do something about it. Those slots in the best schools and at the best companies are reserved for those who really need access to them. While Elizabeth Warren’s personal narrative is touching due to her father’s health problems, let’s not kid ourselves about her privilege.
She did attend the best public high school in Oklahoma at the time, and she and her family lived in the upscale neighborhood surrounding the school. They purchased their homes. She had a ton of privilege that people like me, and people even worse than I have ever been, have never had access to. She has spent her life wrapped in the cozy confines of privileged academia. I don’t begrudge her that experience, but I also don’t think she needs special protection from problems of her own making. And I do think this form of gaming the system needs to be investigated and stopped; otherwise, it’s meaningless to even pursue diversity through affirmative action.
I am usually on board with any woman running for office. And if I lived in Massachusetts, I would still vote for Elizabeth Warren because this incident does not bear on how she would govern, other than to suggest she buys into the bogus and distorting worldview evident in most of American academia at this time. That makes her no better or worse than any person who could capture a Massachusetts senate seat. It would still result in more women in power and I’m fine with that. But the flack she’s getting over this, she earned. It hasn’t been sexist until recently, when some pundits started using buzzwords like “Fauxcahontos” and “Sacage-whiner” to name-call her. That’s sexist, both to the memories of those two historical women, and to the flesh and blood one looking to be the first woman Senator from Massachusetts.
Filed under: 2012 Elections