By Robert Reich
Elizabeth Warren is one of the most talented politicians and policy leaders in America. We must not allow Trump or anyone else to “swift-boat” her because she identified herself as an American Indian three decades ago.
At worst, Warren may have stretched the bounds of the definition of whiteness. That’s understandable. She grew up in Oklahoma, a state created from Indian Territory. She probably witnessed the disrespect and occasional brutality that Native Americans were, and still are, subject to. Her own genetic test showed at least one Native American ancestor. She has stressed that she is not a member of a tribal nation.
Warren didn’t call Mexicans rapists. She didn’t call nations populated primarily by black or brown people “shitholes.” She didn’t assume all Muslims are terrorists. She didn’t characterize black neighborhoods as war zones. She didn’t assert that an American president was born in Africa. She has not sexually assaulted anyone. She has not paid hush money to prostitutes. She hasn’t insulted Native Americans by calling a leading politician “Pocahontas” and joking about the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
Warren got no career benefit from her self-designation. At every step of her exceptional rise in the legal profession, those responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman. The fact that she claimed Indian descent on a Texas bar form that was meant to be confidential is further evidence that her identification arose from sincere belief.
In a larger sense, our Native American heritage should be a point of national pride. Bill Clinton proudly claimed in 1998 that his grandmother was “one-quarter Cherokee.” I remember former Republican Senator Alan Simpson beaming proudly as he showed me an old family reunion photo in which several of the eldest attendees were Native Americans.
It’s far better for a presidential candidate to err on the side of racial or ethnic inclusiveness than for a president to whip the nation into a dangerous and delusional frenzy of racial or ethnic divisiveness.