Published Tuesday, May 22, 2012
I have always thought of myself as a Southern, Caucasian, Baptist white fellow until a candidate for the US Senate in Massachusetts caused me to ponder other alternatives.
By now you have probably heard about the Democrat candidate, Elizabeth Warren, who is trying to unseat Republican Senator Scott Brown, who won the traditional Kennedy seat when Ted died. Many claims, often false, are made by politicians seeking office but this woman may be the prime example of telling a lie in order to get ahead in life.
She claims that she is a “woman of color” which undoubtedly helped her secure a seat on the faculty of a couple of prestigious universities including Harvard. She listed herself as a person of American Indian descent. And on what does she base this claim? Although there is no evidence to verify it, she says that her great, great, great grandmother “may” have been a Cherokee. She also claims that “high cheek bones” run in her family. (Isn't that racial profiling?)
At a time when Harvard and other institutions of higher learning were under fire for not including enough minorities on their faculty, she took it upon herself to claim her Indian heritage and the school proudly pointed to her as their minority faculty member — their “woman of color.” The only problem was that they did not check it out and just took her word for it which is resulting in political heartburn for the candidate and the institutions she hoodwinked.
How did I go wrong in not making a similar claim on my own behalf? Have I missed opportunities all of my life? Why, you should see my cheekbones. If they were any higher they would be called “eye brows.” Besides that, for generations, the rumor has persisted on my grandmother's side of the family that we were descended from the Indian princess Pocahontas and her English husband John Rolfe. Indeed, there is a bit of family correspondence dating to the early 1800s discussing this familial tradition. But it has never crossed my mind to claim American Indian heritage. So, there's no telling of all the opportunities I might have missed out on in life.
I became more aware of racial descent when the U.S. Census Bureau added a myriad of selections for race on the census form which could get out of hand as we delve deeper into our genealogies. For instance:
The Thomas Jefferson saga of descendants through his black mistress, Sally Hemings. Some of them are living as white and some as black. Now that their claim has DNA backing, there is discussion concerning how they should record themselves on the census. All of this renewed my interest in my own genealogy — a search I have referred to in previous columns.
I had accepted my family legend as just that — legend. But, I decided after the proliferation of “family search” sites on the Internet to see what I could find there about the matter. It took a couple of months of trying here and there but finally I found records and lineage charts, when coupled with my genealogical search of three decades ago, would seem to prove that there is indeed more than a drop or two of Native American blood coursing through my white Southern veins. So what? For one thing it also means that I am a direct descendent of Pocahontas's bloodthirsty father, Chief Powhatten. Other than that sobering thought, it doesn't change who I am and will make no difference in the course of human affairs.
But, if I read the news accounts accurately, racial heritage does make a great deal of difference if I had ever expected to make it onto prestigious university faculties or run for the US Senate in the state of Massachusetts.
Why can't we just drop ALL of these hyphenated racial distinctions and just treat all groups the same? Seems the right and democratic thing to do. But, that probably makes too much sense to fly as a federal policy.
In the meantime, I am once again faced with the dilemma of trying to decide if I should become a Native American activist or just open a casino.
Perhaps I should run for the US Senate.
Hey! It works in Massachusetts!
John Brock is a retired newspaper editor/publisher and college professor. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper or by Email at: email@example.com