“I Bought A New Jeep And Named It Elizabeth Warren Because It’s All White But It Says It’s A Cherokee” read the words of a Republican poster making its way around social media these days. It’s designed to be a Republican joke at Democratic official Elizabeth Warren, a woman some would like to see run for President in 2020. With the Democrats taking over the House, and Nancy Pelosi regaining the House Speaker crown, “Blue Wave” politics is making a resurgence. Thank the Lord above for that.
And yet, some Republicans are sour and bitter about it. Some Republican Christians, sour about the strong women in the Democratic Party, like to take their potshots at those political rivals. Elizabeth Warren happens to be one of the most prominent. And, of course, we can’t forget to mention First Lady/Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (she’s had her unfair share of laughs, too). Strong women pose a problem for male chauvinism.
Well, the poster above has become a laughingstock on social media, being passed around by Republican Christians looking to get a good laugh out of Elizabeth Warren. “How stupid she must be,” some have said on social media, “to think that she’s stark white yet claim Native American roots.” And yet, these same jokesters don’t understand that Elizabeth Warren makes a lot of sense; her critics don’t understand genetical correctness.
This post will discuss Elizabeth Warren’s race, how it is that she can be both white and Native American, without contradiction, tension, or lack of sound logic.
Elizabeth Warren: Caucasian and Native American
Elizabeth Warren IS Caucasian and Native American. According to CNN, Warren has taken a DNA test to verify her Native American ancestry:
Before and after his election, President Donald Trump has sneeringly referred to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” as a way of mocking her claim to some sliver of Native American heritage.
At a rally in Montana earlier this year, he called on her to take a DNA test (something former GOP Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, defeated and unseated by Warren in 2012, suggested in 2016) and even made her a memorable offer.“I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,” Trump said. “I have a feeling she will say no but hold it for the debates.”He was wrong.On Monday, Warren revealed that an analysis of genetic testing confirmed her distant Native American ancestry. Trump shrugged off the news and denied he made the big dollar wager.Warren has long said that she is pointing to “family stories” passed down to her through generations as evidence.
On Monday, Warren cited and publicized analysis from Carlos Bustamante, a professor of genetics at Stanford and adviser to Ancestry and 23 and Me.“While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European,” he concluded of Warren, “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.”
In short, the results pretty much agree with what Warren has been arguing for years.
“I am very proud of my heritage,” she told NPR in 2012. “These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw. This is our lives. And I’m very proud of it.”
In that account and others, a genealogist traced Warren’s Native American heritage to the late 19th century.
Elizabeth Warren had her DNA analysis performed by an adviser to two of the most credible DNA sites on the Web: Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. These sites are not the go-to sites for those looking to “fake” their identity or DNA. Keep in mind that, whereas Elizabeth Warren’s DNA analysis revealed that she is Native American, some have believed they were Native American — only to discover otherwise when they receive their test results. This happened to my dad’s cousin, who married and became my aunt on my mom’s side: she believed she was Native American, but her Ancestry DNA test revealed she is 58% Caucasian from England, Wales, and the UK and doesn’t have a drop of Native American blood. Not a single drop.
So those who like to pass around the Jeep Cherokee poster are going to have to revise it to laugh at something that isn’t true. I guess the joke’s on Elizabeth Warren’s “haters.”
How is Elizabeth Warren’s biracial makeup possible?
Okay, so Elizabeth Warren’s haters are wrong about her, and she really is Caucasian and Native American. But, how is this possible? This is where a lesson in genetics comes in.
Genetics has something to say about biracial makeup. Think back to slavery times, when African-Americans and Caucasians had children together. Thomas Jefferson, for example, fathered children by a slave maid in his household, Sally Hemings. DNA tests conducted in 1998 show that there’s a very strong possibility Thomas Jefferson fathered six of Sally Heming’s children after his wife’s death. Those six children, then, would have been “Mulatto,” listed as “M” on a number of historical records. I know this because I’ve done my own ancestry and discovered a number of “mulatto” ancestors of my own.
I always knew of my Native American heritage on my dad’s side of the family, as my great-grandmother, only three generations removed from me, was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian (Trump calls Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” in a joking manner, but on a serious note, my dad’s grandmother could be Pocahontas’s twin sister). But, what I’ve discovered in my ancestry as of late pertaining to my mother’s family is that her great-great-grandfather, Matthew Jones, my maternal third great-grandfather, was listed as a “Mulatto” in a number of census registrations back in his lifetime. This same Matthew Jones is the one listed in the will (now published on the internet) of one Jacob Ing, my maternal fourth great-grandfather, a white slave owner who fathered him by way of an African maid servant named Easter Hester Chaney Freedwoman Jones. In a US Census record, Jacob Ing, Easter Hester Chaney Freedwoman Jones, and Matthew Jones, lived in the same household — even more evidence that my research has produced fact and not fiction. Even in my own family tree, I can see how Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave maid.
Multi-faceted: Complexion and Race
So with that said, genetics is the study of how we came to be, or, as the Greek word genos suggests, the study of race. Race is not just “purebred,” or as cut and dry as many seem to believe. Even in the early twentieth century US Census registrations, there were three race designations: Black (B), White (W), and Mulatto (M). Race isn’t confined to just one, “Black” or “White.” That’s how many think of race, but it’s really a cut-and-dry designation that produces nice, neat categories but doesn’t tackle the sexual unions of those of different races. And then, there’s Complexion (C), which can deceive because it appears one-sided at times when the person is biracial.
A child produced through the union of a Black father and a White mother could still have a White complexion; it’s not set in stone that the child will appear Black because the father is Black. Similarly, a child produced by the same racial couple could bear a Black complexion. And, even in a case where a White or Black child is produced, that child still retains a racial makeup that is “both” black and white, or mulatto (or mixed). In a case on Paternity Court, a woman had been with two different men (one Black, one White). The child has white complexion and red hair, but the father (as verified through paternity) is Black, not the White man the child’s mother believed was the real father of her baby.
If Black and White complexions and race is this complicated, then imagine how complicated Native American ancestry is! That’s the case with Elizabeth Warren and countless millions of other US citizens. Native American ancestry is considered to be a cut-and-dry makeup: “you have to look like a Native American to be one,” some say. The problem with such a claim is that Native Americans also intermarried into families, and some Caucasians took Native American brides. The result is that their children could have a White complexion yet still be BOTH Caucasian and Native American. In fact, such a child would be. A child born into a union of a Black parent and Native American parent could have Black complexion yet still be biracial and claim that he or she is Native American.
In a personal case of a classmate of mine, a guy “named” Jefferson (this is not his real name, but I’ll use it to disguise his identity) had a Caucasian father and a Filipino mother (his mother was born and raised in the Philippines). This same individual wanted to go to an Ivy League school but couldn’t afford tuition. So, he listed himself as a minority and claimed his “Filipino” status on his college application. He wasn’t lying or deceiving, but he simply claimed his minority status. The result? He received admission into the Ivy League institution with a full financial scholarship. He had a White complexion but was a Filipino.
To assume a 1:1 direct correlation between complexion (the color of one’s skin) and racial identity is a naive assumption. The reality is that, in some cases, complexion can hide or disguise one’s full racial identity. It may be said that Elizabeth Warren’s White complexion hides her full racial identity, but it can’t be said that she’s lying about her racial identity. She has White complexion but is both Caucasian and Native American. There is nothing illogical about it. It makes perfect sense.
This post was designed to educate the hate about race and complexion and to show that complexion does not equal race all the time. There are many cases in which it does: if you saw my mom’s dad (my grandfather) today, you’d be correct to assume his racial identity is his complexion. It is. Of all the ancestry I’ve done on mom’s dad, there’s nothing in his family but a single race. Mom’s mom’s side, however, is complex, with her ancestry going all the way back to England. Despite my grandmother’s “England” ancestry and her “Mulatto” and “Caucasian” grandfathers, her complexion is Black.
With that said, the ones who put up such posters as the one above are those who laugh at common sense. Anyone can observe genetics and watch paternity court cases (or conduct a few of their own) to see that complexion and race are “complex,” not as simple as many believe them to be. This is why the root word of “complexion” is “complex” — because complexion is a complex matter; it doesn’t tell the whole story. I suggest that Elizabeth Warren’s haters, Republicans, get out in the world and get educated about genetics and race before laughing in ignorance.