Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren stooped to President Donald Trump’s level this week when she released a DNA test proving the validity of her past claims of Native American heritage.
Warren reportedly first changed her ethnicity status from white to Native American while teaching at the Pennsylvania Law School, a move some say she made to secure a job as a law professor at Harvard.
Responding to Trump’s taunts that Warren was faking her claims of heritage, Warren released test results showing she most likely had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago. A full native ancestor 10 generations ago may make her as little as 1/1,024 Native American.
Warren should never have claimed Native American heritage in the first place. She has no right to claim minority status. Not only does she live life with the privileges of appearing white — she’s more likely to get a job and less likely to be incarcerated, just for starters — but the problems facing Native American tribes have no bearing upon her or her family’s lives.
Whether or not Warren lied about her heritage ultimately doesn’t matter. If Warren is Native American due to an ancestor generations ago, it has no bearing on her current life. She is not fighting to protect her home from sale to the federal government. She is not rallying to keep her tribe’s land from being exploited for its natural resources.
Waiting so long after the issue first became hot in 2012 to release this test is a sign that Warren is preparing to run for president in 2020. She intends to dispel assertions that she’s uncredible and win back public trust, but bringing this debate to the forefront of her campaign will only haunt her going forward.
To win the support of voters, Warren should be talking about the platform she’s running on and the change she wants to make. Ostracizing minority groups and giving leverage to Trump’s base doesn’t help her presidential chances.
It’s possible that Warren inevitably had to respond to Trump’s comments in order to move forward with her campaign. But the extent in which she has responded — creating a website detailing her basically nonexistent Native American ancestry — is excessive. Playing into Trump’s rhetoric may be a move she can’t recover from.
On top of that, the results are still inconclusive. No single genetic test can provide a definitive answer, and test results can also vary wildly depending on the DNA database each lab uses. Almost anyone could have an ancestor far back in their family line with an ethnicity different than theirs, but that doesn’t mean they can claim they understand what it’s like to be a minority.
If she has presidential ambitions, everything Warren does is political. Trying not to respond to Trump’s endless stream of ridicule would be nearly impossible for Warren — that she responded to him isn’t the problem, but that she tried to play off her mistake by proving her innocence is.
Claiming to have some ownership to Native American identity was wrong, and Warren should have owned up to her initial mistake from the start, rather than coming out with evidence to prove she wasn’t technically lying. She continues to be disingenuous to a community that already experiences more than its fair share of difficulties.
Whether Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother was partially Native American or not, Warren has lived her life with the privilege of a white woman. She has a responsibility to acknowledge that she hasn’t taken the struggles of Native Americans into account. Failing to do so is damaging to her integrity and a leverage of racial identity for political gain.