The Conversation

Elizabeth Warren 'Hurt' by Stories Questioning Her Heritage

Elizabeth Warren has a forthcoming autobiography in which she describes the difficulties she faced in the 2012 election after bloggers began questioning her Native American heritage.

Politico, which scored an advance copy of the book, reports that Warren was "hurt" and "angry" about what she saw as attacks on her family.

At the height of the 2012 campaign, it was reported that Warren had listed herself as having Native American roots at Harvard University. Soon, there was a “full-blown campaign frenzy,” Warren recalls, with Republicans demanding that she prove her Native-American roots and accusing her of getting her job at the elite university by making false claims about her personal background.

The story in question is this one which Breitbart News published in May 2012.  Harvard EEOC records available online proved the school had listed her as Native American and suggested strongly that Warren had self-reported her claim of Cherokee heritage to Harvard.

Three weeks later, Warren admitted that she had told Harvard (and U. of Penn.) she was Native American. She claimed she was proud of her family heritage despite the fact that no historical evidence to support her claim could be located.

According to Warren, it "simply wasn't true" that her career had benefited from her claim of minority status. She says Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, where she previously worked, only learned of her minority status after she was hired. Of course a directory of law school personnel listed her as a minority between 1986 and 1995. Warren claimed in 2012 that she had only included her minority status in the listing to make friends.

But Warren's minority status wasn't only beneficial to Warren, it was also beneficial to Harvard. In 1990, Harvard Law let professor Derrick Bell go. Bell had been pressuring Harvard for several years to hire and grant tenure to more minority professors.

Three years after Bell's departure, Harvard offered Elizabeth Warren a job. She finally accepted the position in 1995. Within a year, a spokesman for Harvard was touting Warren's minority status in the Crimson as proof of the school's commitment to diversity.

Three years after hiring Warren, Derrick Bell wrote an op-ed in the NY Times congratulating Harvard for hiring its first black woman law professor, Lani Guinier. Harvard responded to the implied criticism (that it had taken them a long time) a few days later in the pages of the Times saying, "Since 1989 the school has appointed to the faculty or voted tenure for four African-Americans, a Hispanic professor and eight women, including a Native American." That was another reference to Elizabeth Warren.

Would Harvard have hired Elizabeth Warren if she had been listed as white? Perhaps. Was Harvard under intense pressure at the time to hire more minority women and did they make public use of Warren's Native American heritage claim? Definitely.


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