The issue of Elizabeth Warren’s likely acquisition of certain benefits by claiming the status of an American Indian raises some interesting questions of justice.
It clearly is not racist to mock her for this. She is not really an Indian and, in fact, benefited by pretending to be something she was not. Implicit in her widespread condemnation, mostly by conservatives, is that affirmative action is right. While it is a good thing to see how unnerving this is to her–since she is a liberal that accepts affirmative action, and it was wrong by her own personal standards–in our zeal to condemn her fraud, we should remember that perhaps such a fraud is defensible when the whole point of truthfulness is unjust discrimination.
I reject the alleged justice of the affirmative action regime. For those who are even properly classified, it is an ill gotten gain. They are judged by different standards and take a finite number of places in universities, police forces, fire departments, law firms, hospitals, and everywhere on account of being black or female or Indian or Hispanic. Lower standards hurt the broader society, and white males (and high IQ Asians) and their families are the chief victims.
Systems like this are not unusual. For starters, this system is mostly the mirror image of the Jim Crow regime of the early 20th Century South, which deprived blacks of ability from being fairly considered for a wide variety of positions. It is widely condemned today as an unfair system of social control. Then it was not totally uncommon for lighter skinned blacks to “pass” to advance in their careers, often tragically rejecting their family members or keeping them at arms’ length in order to escape the limitations of official racism.
In the famous “separate but equal” decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, Plessy argued inter alia that the refusal to seat him on the white passenger car deprived him of property – “this reputation [of being white] which has an actual pecuniary value” – without the due process of law guaranteed by the amendment. Because phenotypically Plessy appeared to be white–he was only 1/8 black–he argued that barring him from the railway car reserved for whites severely impaired or deprived him of the reputation of being regarded as white. While in the past “being white” had an important pecuniary value, today it’s “being Indian” or “being black” or being whatever group is favored under the affirmative action regime. And, as with anything that has value, or where the alternative has a cost, some will try to acquire the benefit through fraud and other shortcuts.
We have other analogies that are more salient because, like modern affirmative action, they purport to be righting historic wrongs. Most prominently, the Soviet Union had affirmative action for children of proletarians. At the same time, the discriminatory corollary of all affirmative action regimes existed as well: those with “spoilt biographies”– that is children of noble birth, professionals, and so-called Kulaks–all faced the inability to advance in society, get into universities, and the like.
Many hid their “spoilt biographies,” making up fake identities, hiding their parents’ arrests as “enemies of the people,” adopting assumed names, and the like. Unlike racial affirmative action, this class-based discrimination was easier to circumvent, but the basic justice of defrauding the system had a certain resonance.
We have seen some of this in recur in modern life, both in fiction and reality. The 80s movie Soul Man was pretty telling. The white lead actor obtained a scholarship when his parents were not able to afford his college by pretending to be black. Any moral dilemmas involved were wrapped it all up nicely by revealing to him that passing for black was a huge injustice to the real victims of ubiquitous racism. Similarly Rachel Dolezal, who probably had a few screws loose, pretended to be black and rose to prominence in the NAACP until her fraud was exposed.
Because Elizabeth Warren is a fraud, it’s neither an injustice nor racism to real Indians to make fun of her for it. Indeed, unlike others who had to take on new identities to escape discrimination, it never really cost her anything. She lived her life, obtained more and more success, and even dropped the fraud at a certain point after she got her foot in the door. For an elite that says “race is a social construct,” it has created a huge edifice on that foundation, and peering too deeply into the reality of it–who is Indian, black, Hispanic, etc.?–is something that is avoided as much as possible. It depends largely on an honor code, and it depends on assuming someone like Warren was a victim of some personal or historical injustice.
While fraudulently getting benefits from this system may deprive minorities of scholarships and opportunities otherwise reserved for them, it does not deprive anyone of anything which they are truly owed as matter of justice. It’s quite different from something like Stolen Valor, where phonies claim military service or military awards they never received in order to attain the resulting honors, adding dishonesty to what may have also been a lack of courage.
Rather, affirmative action fraud is more a form of self help, akin to the passing of light skinned blacks and “spoilt biography” Soviets in the middle of the 20th Century. The real fraud and the real injustice is in the anti-white discriminatory regime Elizabeth Warren has done nothing to question or challenge. Affirmative action reengineers standards in every field to advance minorities, at the expense of more qualified and often more disadvantaged white candidates. The facts showing the dramatic advantages for minorities in admissions and promotes are ruthlessly suppressed, so that we can pretend the advantage is modest. So for her part in benefiting from this system, while doing nothing to dismantle it, I can think of nothing more appropriate than Trump and others mocking Warren with the sobriquet, Pocahontas.