“I have an Indian heritage THIS BIG!”
IMAGE: Ulysses S Grant, 18th President of the United States, and according to family folklore, an indirect ancestor to yours truly.
When I was a boy, we were told that among our ancestors was Ulysses S Grant, the general who led the Union to victory in the War Between the States, and who later became the nation's eighteenth President.
It seemed plausible at the time. His family were Methodists who came to Ohio from Pennsylvania, as were my Mom's ancestors on her Mom's side. He also came from the county where I grew up, about the same time most of Mom's people settled there. Somewhere in my library is a spiral-bound book entitled "The Henri Rosselot Family History." I could probably look it up, but I suspect that even if I found it, it was never considered an enhancement of our pedigree. Historians do not rate him very high among past presidents, and he was known to drink a bit. Maybe that's why no one ever made much of it. Maybe I shouldn't either.
Or, as Dad would have said: “That and a dime will get you a nickel cup of coffee.”
Others are less reticent to exploit their lineage, real or imagined.
As this is written, a Harvard Law School professor by the name of Elizabeth Warren has just won the Democratic Party endorsement, to run for a seat in the United States Senate. It has been reported of late that she claimed to be at least partly descended from the Cherokee Nation, in order to be classified as a racial minority, in consideration of her professorial appointment.
What is the extent of this ancestry? One thirty-second. That's right, half of one-sixteenth.
That would mean that one of her great-great-great-grandparents was a Cherokee, or so she says. She has yet to provide any documentation, other than a reference to her high cheek bones. In fact, it probably doesn't matter. There are many groups which claim to be branches of the Cherokee, but only three are recognized by the United States government. In addition, to be recognized as a member of that Nation, you have to obtain verification from a chieftain or tribal committee. Chances are that anything less than one-sixteenth would probably disqualify her from membership outright, even if she could prove that much.
IMAGE: Professor Elizabeth Warren explaining her “fish story” to a captive audience.
Now, in fairness, appearing very Caucasian doesn't necessarily refute a claim. One of my classmates at the Art Institute belongs to one of Virginia's Indian tribes; the niece of the chieftain, and a direct descendent of Pocahontas. But to look at her, she appears as white as I am, as are many Amerindians of Virginia tribes, on account of intermarriage over the last four hundred years. In fact, if you're African-American, and were born and raised in southern Virginia or the Carolinas, chances are that you are at least part Cherokee.
(She was a terrific gal, by the way.)
The premise for claiming minority status when being considered for employment, is out of some disadvantage having been associated with it, but let's be honest; American Indians are not the only people with high cheekbones. So unless it can be verified, or unless it put her even remotely at a disadvantage, Elizabeth Warren should be considered according to the lofty standards of the academic community, to be exactly what she is.
As if we didn't have enough liars in public office, don't you think?
Or don't you?