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Monday, December 31, 2018

Elizabeth Warren's DNA

I welcome Elizabeth Warren's entrance into the race. But this paragraph of the recent WP story bugs me:
It made no mention of a recent Warren stumble: her October decision to release results of a DNA test that said she probably had a distant Native American ancestor. The move had been meant to stifle Trump’s criticism of her but only engendered more mockery from him while also angering Democrats, particularly minorities who objected to her defining ethnicity via a test.
I saw that video and saw nothing wrong with it. Trump and the Trumpers will always mock; that's what they do. They are trolls and bullies by nature.

The comment about "defining ethnicity via a test" pisses me off. For years, years, people have screamed at Warren: "You say you had a Native American ancestor? Prove it!" Yet when she does prove it, everyone shouts: "How dare you use SCIENCE to determine FACT?"

That's the point when we children of the '70s shout back: "Catch-22!"

(Do younger people know what "Catch-22" means? They ought to.)

I have a personal interest in this controversy. The same thing might have happened to me, had I ever chosen to run for office.

My father -- who died when I was young -- refused to talk about his ancestry, even though such discussions were common back in the day. "I'm American!" he'd snarl in a tone of voice that commanded inquirers to drop the subject.

Eventually, my mom had a chance to discuss the issue with his mom, who recounted an amazingly complex and convoluted story which my mom could not recall in detail. Apparently, the family tree has roots twining through every single country in Europe. The mix includes one Jew and one American Indian.

(That was the term used in the 1960s. Which tribe, you ask? Mom never told me. Dad's family settled in Ohio, so perhaps the Shawnee.)

After Dad died, I usually identified myself as Eye-talian, because Mom's people came from Italy, and because my hero was Leonardo da Vinci. Italy is the land of great painters, great food, and Sophia Loren, I was told. Nobody on her side of the family liked to talk about Mussolini or the mafia.

But whenever friends entered into a detailed discussion of ethnic heritage, I related what little I knew about my father. Toward the end, I would say: "There's even an Indian in there somewhere."

It never occurred to me to question the idea. Not until the Elizabeth Warren controversy cropped up.

But once that controversy took hold, I had to ask myself: How can you be certain?

Grandma Pearl was a bit eccentric. Not crazy, but a true character. As I distinctly recall, she was the kind of woman who treated pillowfighting as if it were an Olympic event. She may have been an untrustworthy narrator.

So let's say that Elizabeth Warren's DNA test had turned out differently. Let's say that her only "crime" was believing her own family's version of Grandma Pearl. So what? Should Warren be disqualified from the presidency on that basis?
I have a very interesting family history related to me by my father. When his father was 12, he stole a cow from his father, sold it and booked travel to the United States. Upon arriving, he visited his sister who then lived in New York City. He went to her and asked for help, she gave him a dime and told him to find a job. He went to Central Park, sat on a bench and cried. A kindly gentleman asked what the problem was. My grandfather replied in Hungarian, which the man knew, and told him that he had nowhere to go. The man took pity on the young boy, took him back to Scranton, raised him as his own, sent him to the Jewish school, though the man was not Jewish, and when he retired gave him his dry goods store. Wonderful story, except totally bogus. My grandfather was 20 when he arrived in America. Same story with my mother's father, who supposedly came here at a young age and worked as peddler with a horse and cart. That grandfather also arrived when he was 20. Somebody doing genealogical research contacted my brother a few years back and that is when we discovered the truth. But family myths are tough to unravel and who would ever doubt his father?
Well, that's more colorful than MY story! Who would concoct a tale about a stolen cow? Still, there must have been some kind of seed money involved.

Apparently, in the '50s, it became a bit of a fad to claim that one's family includes at least one Indian ancestor. I suspect that this fad grew out of that decade's infatuation with Western films.
And out in the West Texas town of El Paso, an Irish-American would have voters believe that he is Mexican. Robert, O'Rourke says, is "Beto" but his middle name Francis is Francisco in Spanish and Wiki has a tale about The Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho.

"Cisco" and "Pancho" are both nicknames given to men whose Spanish name is Francisco, which in English is "Francis." The Cisco Kid character's full name was revealed in books and '40s movies as Juan Carlos Francisco Antonio Hernandez.

It is probable, but not clear, that Pancho or Cisco were originally named after the famous Mexican revolutionary general whose nom de guerre was Francisco "Pancho" Villa.

So fame can come with surprising negatives.
Publishing her DNA test was a stupid move, politically. In my book, her poor judgement almost disqualifies her for the presidency. I'm keeping an open mind...but just barely.

I do like her otherwise, and agree with her domestic agenda.
Stupid WHY?

That's the question I keep asking, and nobody gives an answer that makes sense to me.

People asked if she really did have Native American ancestry. She took a test. It proves she did. What the hell is the fucking PROBLEM?
Google for "Cherokee Princess Syndrome". As it turns out, lots and lots of families have a Grandma Pearl who told the young'uns there was a "Cherokee Princess" or "Indian Chief" in their family tree. Granny did it because kids always think it's cool. There's usually no Indian link at all and the DNA testing service 23andMe has a FAQ item for people who are disappointed to learn it was probably all a fib.

According to the Google ngram viewer, "Cherokee Princess" (the most common meme) only took off around 1980. Before that it was a common claim only in the southern U.S. A Southern Focus Poll (UNC/Chapel Hill) found when southerners were asked if they had Indian ancestry, 45% said yes, as compared to 25% of the rest of the country. Interestingly, southerners are now more likely to claim being part Indian than descended from Confederate soldiers (22%).

I'm dismayed by the poor judgement Warren showed by announcing the results of the DNA test as if it were vindication. Cultural identity is part of the daily life for a great many Indians; it was entirely predictable that when she said, "the test shows I'm part Indian," some Indians angrily replied, "look, it's not like putting on a green sweater for St. Patrick's - and by the way, your record on Indian issues really sucks."

I won't go so far as calling what she did cultural appropriation, but it was grossly insensitive. After all, if the test showed she had a Jewish ancestor around 1750, would Orthodox voters applaud her for announcing she was "part Jewish?" If genealogists found a relative who was a slave owner, would she bring that up to Black audiences?
Stupid because the result was totally predictable.
Stupid because she had nothing to gain by doing it.
Stupid because, instead of trivializing him, she validated Trump's joke.
Stupid because she should have known better
...if she was truly ready for primetime politics.
Doesn't anyone GET IT? this country was built on GENOCIDE of the native people who populated this continent. In Washington & Oregon, along the Columbia River, the Hudson's Bay trappers gave out blankets infested with smallpox & watched whole tribes die. There are many people who have native blood in this country & like Elizabeth Warren, get hounded to fucking death about it. It makes me sick to think of the atrocities that were inflicted on the peoples of this entire continent - & the shallow stupid ignorant assholes who don't stand up for human decency toward the rich cultures that were wiped out & the many, many, many people who carry native trauma in their own DNA. Have you been around tribal people today? I have & I am part native american, tribes unknown, from SW Viriginia & eastern Tennesee, & PROUD OF IT. WAKE the fuck up!
It's the "female candidates must be perfect and pure" problem. Try to imagine a male subjected to the same mockery and dismissal for the same triviality.

The test WAS vindication.

Look, you can't have it both ways. You can't tell Warren "Prove it!" and then sneer at her for proving it. That IS Catch-22.

"I won't go so far as calling what she did cultural appropriation, but it was grossly insensitive. After all, if the test showed she had a Jewish ancestor around 1750, would Orthodox voters applaud her for announcing she was "part Jewish?" If genealogists found a relative who was a slave owner, would she bring that up to Black audiences?"

She wasn't doing it to please any audience. She believed a family claim. That belief was reflected on a form she filled out. Others doubted the claim and told her to prove it. She did. And that is fucking IT.

All of this other nonsense is the kind of politically correct insanity that most people hate -- including (according to a poll recently cited by Bill Maher) the majority of Native Americans.

Look at it this way. Suppose I were running for office. Suppose a crowd of people out there demanded that I prove my Italian ancestry. Suppose I provide some form of proof (DNA or otherwise) to back up my claim. And THEN suppose that the same critics said "So, Cannon -- you've decided to pander to Italian voters?"

You can't win! It's an infuriating situation: You're damned as a liar, and then when you prove that you were telling the truth all along, you're damned for providing the requested proof.

Perhaps if I were Joseph Heller, I'd be a good enough writer to explain the absurdity of this situation.

As for Grandma Pearl: I prefer to think that she was telling the truth; alas, she died a long time ago and I have no way of knowing. She was high-spirited and larger-than-life, but I doubt that she would have fibbed about such a thing, although I must reluctantly concede the possibility. To be honest, it never occurred to me until quite recently that she might have lied to my mom.

I'd really like a link to that poll supposedly showing the majority of Indians consider it "politically correct insanity." I follow several Indian news sites and even the NPR-like, ultra-moderate "Indian Country Today" has consistently hammered Warren over how she has treated this issue.

Your analogy about being challenged on Italian ancestry fails. Warren isn't pandering to any voting bloc by claiming to be part Indian, she's only saying the DNA test vindicates her claim. But let's pretend that it really is important for your election to prove your Italian heritage, so you submit a report which compares your DNA to people from Spain, Tunisia and Greece. Yep, that proves Joe's a paisano!

Wait - what?

Geneticists have very few samples of American Indian DNA. Tribes are distrustful that the data could be leveraged against them IN EXACTLY THIS WAY, being used as "proof" that an individual is/is not a "real" Indian. The (well-respected) researcher who evaluated Warren's DNA used samples of people from Mexico, Peru and Colombia, which historically have large Indian populations. So in other words, the nature of the test itself was an insult to lots of Indians, aside from her claim that it vindicates her.

The background to all this is the theory of a single, Bering Strait migration is rapidly falling apart. It's now widely believed there were at least three separate migrations starting as long as 24,000 years ago (Google for "Solutrean"). So some American Indians may not even be related to the people whose DNA was used. Which, of course, we can't test because the tribes are distrustful. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You are absolutely right that Warren was ensnared in a Catch-22, and this is another one specific to the Indian community. Had she discussed the DNA issue with Indians in advance, I'm sure she would have been told the test itself was a real imbroglio.
There’s another problem that the formidable Warren now faces. And of course it’s just more of the same old Republican crap. They misrepresent and lie about her competence and positions.

Twice on Monday I heard different people do this. One was that hack GOPer that MSNBC has on frequently. To paraphrase, she’s as far out there on the left as Trump is to the right, with just as rabid a base.

The other was some stupid analyst on PBS, I think. She characterized Warren as a “populist.” - - - Wait a minute, I thought Trump is the populist.

Get read for a replay of the 2016 media shit-show that will aim to damage any competent Democratic candidates. The Republican spokespeople, operatives, office-holders, etc are, with a few possible but unknown exceptions, sociopaths. They have no respect for truth or decency or anybody other than themselves or their billionaire funders.

So, in this climate, it will be just as Joseph has said about that DNA test. She would have been damned if she didn’t and now she’s being damned that she did take one.

Happy New Year.


This is the same world where some bloated, lying asshole, Corsi, got people to doubt John Kerry’s service in Viet Nam.
In "The Art of the Deal," Trump claimed that his grandfather came from Scotland. He didn't, his grandfather came from Germany. The Trump family claimed Scottish ancestry so as not to offend its Jewish tenants in New York. Trump's family lied so as to get something, Warren's family told the truth for no benefit and yet it is Warren who is pilloried.
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