Friday, October 19, 2018

CMV: Elizabeth Warren's decision to release her DNA results, and the way in which they were released, was both strategically​ and morally wrong​

There are two components to my argument. First, I believe that releasing the results, in the manner that she did, will strategically/politically hurt her chances in 2020.
  • It makes it look like she is stooping to Trump's level: by playing ball with Trump, she has taken the bait and is now stooping to his level of ad hominem politics.
  • It gives the right a ton of ammo for attack adds and talking points. They can now say that Warren has benefited from her claim of Native American heritage while being scarcely Native American - this fits very well into the right wing narrative that Democrats are obsessed with 'identity politics' and fetishize minorities (I'm not saying this is true necessarily, but Warren's actions fit neatly into that narrative).
  • The questionable morality of the entire thing will make many advocates for social justice, as well as Native Americans themselves, second guess whether Warren would be a genuine advocate for the oppressed or whether she is merely riding this wave for political gain which will significantly reduce the votes she would otherwise get if she kept silent on the issue or released a more appropriate video.
Second, I believe the way in which she has sold her Native American ancestry is morally wrong.
  • In her release video, she claims that the DNA results validate her Native American heritage. However, in the past, Warren has gone even further than saying she has Native American heritage - she has claimed that she is Native American. This is a big distinction, and to claim that you are Native American when you are likely less than 1% Native American, have never had tribal contact, and have never suffered any form of oppression that actual Native Americans suffer, comes off to me as overplaying a minority status for political gain.
  • Native Americans themselves object to the use of DNA tests to validate ancestry - the whole idea (to them) is demeaning and ignores the fact that culture and shared experience are much more important than DNA in terms of Native American (or any cultural) identity. By ignoring this opinion from Native Americans, Warren is tone deaf at best and at worst is knowingly acting against their wishes by going so public with her results.
How should Warren have proceeded? I believe that she could have publicized her results without coming off as offensive and culturally incompetent. She could have used the video to honestly explain that her family had hyperbolized her Native American roots, that she does not identify as Native American, and that she has not been oppressed in any way because of her ancestry. This has been a rambling post, but I think ya'll get my major points.

Edit#1: Thank you so much all for engaging in this conversation. I have tried to respond to as many posts as I can but unfortunately have to get back to studying. My perspective is largely unchanged but I will continue trying to respond when I can. Furthermore, there has been some misinformation about the DNA test results and how they are interpreted. One user linked me this article, which has a great breakdown of what the test means. In summary, it is much more likely that Warren is 1/64th native American as opposed to 1/500th or 1/1,000 Native American. This doesn't really change my main points, but it is good to get the facts straight.

Edit#2: This boston globe article has a good summary of the situation at hand. A lot of people are saying that she has never identified as Native American, but that is contradictory to this relevant passage:
"In an interview with the Globe published last month, Warren explained that she identified herself as Native American in the late 1980s and early 1990s as many of the matriarchs of her family were dying and she began to feel that her family stories and history were becoming lost.
Ivy League universities, like the ones where Warren taught, were under great pressure to show they had diverse staffs.
The University of Pennsylvania filled out a document explaining why it hired a white woman over minority candidates — clear evidence it didn’t view her as a Native American addition. And the Globe interviewed 31 Harvard Law School faculty members who voted on her appointment there, and all said her heritage was not a factor."
So, while I don't think it's likely that her career has been significantly furthered by claims to Native American heritage, the fact is that she has identified as Native American historically. I believe that she should have addressed this in her video and been explicit that it was a mistake to ever identify as Native American