Senator Elizabeth Warren, obviously laying groundwork for a Presidential run, released DNA test results that support her long-standing assertion that she has some Native American in her lineage. Warren has been under considerable pressure to do so, especially from conservative quarters, where her assertion, based on family lore and a notable lack of hard confirmation, drew derisive calls of “Pocahontas” and even more derisive nick-naming “Fauxcahontas.” Her released results suggest that she has anywhere from 1/512th (10 generations back) to 1/32nd (six generations back) Native American heritage.

Warren has steadfastly maintained that she never sought preferential hiring treatment because of her Native American ancestry, and I haven’t seen evidence that shows she did. Both she and her one-time employer (Harvard University) did, on the other hand, tout that heritage for diversity purposes. In other words, Warren, who upon any dispassionate inspection would clearly be labeled “white,” got added into Harvard’s diversity percentage.

This raises the question as to how much of a particular ancestry qualifies someone for minority status (Halle Berry‘s one drop proclamation notwithstanding). With diversity being a significant factor in culture, both workplace and otherwise, how much “non-White” heritage is sufficient to put someone in that preferred category, for the purposes of the diversity-marketing game?

Actually, it should raise the question as to why such a game even exists. It also reanimates the very discomfiting concept of hypodescent, which assigned people of mixed heritage (even dilute) to the “lower” heritage, and birthed the ugly terms quadroon, octoroon, and hexadecaroon (and mustee, and quintroon, and terceron, and mustefino, and sacatra, and others). Our and other Western Hemisphere societies used to tag people of mixed ethnic background in such a manner, often to delegitimize them for personal or partisan reasons, and it was an ugliness that should remain in the dustbin of history. But, here we are, nearly 20% into the 21st century, and we witness the same sort of differentiation by mixed ethnicity, for personal or partisan reasons in the opposite direction.

In the waning years of the Obama Administration, a proposal was put forth to add a MENA (Middle Eastern/North African) category to the Census, and presumably by extension, to the diversity game tallies. Such a designation carries more than statistical interest, because the allocation of federal education and other dollars is affected. The proposal was rejected earlier this year, and I’d suggest without research that this rejection has to do with the Democrats’ losses at the ballot box in 2016, but I doubt it’ll go away. Government-sanctioned tags are vital when fighting for position in the grievance hierarchy, and that’s before we look at the irresistible lure of other people’s money.

I’ve done a couple DNA tests, and I was wholly unsurprised to find that my heritage is overwhelmingly Greek (or close-to-Greek, as in Italian, Balkan, etc – they’ve cross-pollinated to the point of indistinguishability). I was also wholly unsurprised to find a few percentage points of MENA, given the 400+ years of Ottoman rule over the land of my ancestors. In fact, I’ve got more MENA in me than Warren has Native American. I didn’t need DNA testing to surmise this reality, but it has never once occurred to me to assert or advertise MENA heritage for any reason whatsoever. Why? Because I was raised in a Greek-American household, and culture, and religion, and “identity.” Warren grew up in Oklahoma, was raised Methodist, and has nothing in her bio to suggest any Native American cultural rearing or identity, other than the family anecdote of a 6-generations removed ancestor.

In other words, she and I are, for all practical purposes, white European in heritage, white American in upbringing.

What, then, would be the point of proclaiming the small amount of “non-white,” other than as a beneficial differentiator that has no attachment to actual life experience or cultural upbringing?

Harvard put forth its diversity tally in response to criticisms about the lack thereof, but the reason to have a more diverse professorial staff is to offer a wider range of cultural perspectives, not just to have people who merely look different (or, barring that, have slightly different DNA). My 6% MENA in no way ensures any ability to offer opinions from a MENA cultural perspective, given that I was not raised therein, and while there are crossover elements between my Greek heritage and the nearby Middle-Eastern cultures (in food, in language and idiom, in attire, and in other ways), it remains that the heritage perspective I can offer is the one I was raised in rather than what my DNA tests say.

This is the gag about the diversity movement. It substitutes identity markers for actual biography. This undermines the desired effect of having a diverse faculty, or staff, or workforce, i.e. diversity of perspective. While some do assert that growing up, say, black or latino in America guarantees a different cultural perspective, even if one grows up in a millionaire household and goes to private schools and the Ivy League, we still run into the problem of “how much blood” qualifies one for a diversity distinction.

Or, the problematic and uncomfortable matter of self-identification. Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, declared herself to be black, and rose to the presidency of the NAACP before it came out that she had no known black heritage. Can she claim to offer a black cultural perspective, i.e. satisfy the purposes of diversity, simply by claiming connection to the culture? Most of us would say no. Would the fact that her parents adopted “three African-American children and one black Haitian child” infuse in her sufficient black culture to support her self-identification for diversity purposes? What if she did a DNA test and found 1/32nd sub-Saharan DNA? Would that counterweigh her Czech, German and Swedish ethnicity or white Montana Pentecostal upbringing?

See the problem?

And, yet, colleges, universities, Corporate America, and governments large and small devote tremendous attention to “diversity,” relying on self-identification and external markers, rather than actual cultural history or experience.

This leads us to the real question in all of this: What, exactly, constitutes “diversity?”

Good luck getting one answer.

Once again, we find the libertarian view is the way forward: It shouldn’t matter. People should be judged as individuals, not by their appearance, not by their identity markers, and not by their DNA. If an organization believes there’s benefit in having a “diverse” population, it should look for that diversity in individual history, rather than in a six-generation-removed ancestor.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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