The whole story has a tragicomic, Nathaniel Hawthorne meets “Curb Your Enthusiasm” feel. It’s easy to imagine [elizabeth] Warren originally checking a box more on a whim than out of any deep determination to self-identify as Cherokee. (She didn’t use the minority-applicant program when applying to Rutgers, where she attended law school, and she identified as “white” during an early teaching job at the University of Texas.) Then it’s easy to imagine her embarrassment when the diversity wars of the 1990s made that whimsical choice something from which she couldn’t dissociate herself without intense public awkwardness. Those wars faded, she no longer listed herself as a Native American, she thought the whole thing was behind her … until she went into politics, where no secret stays buried.
The appropriate response to such a tale is probably sympathy rather than scorn. What does deserve scorn, though, is the academic culture in which an extremely distant connection to a Cherokee ancestor ends up being touted by a law school as proof of its commitment to diversity…. The irony is that Warren herself probably did make Harvard more diverse, since she grew up the daughter of a janitor in Oklahoma — not a typical background, to put it mildly, for Ivy League students and faculty today. But under the academy’s cramped definitions, it was her grandfather’s Cherokee cheekbones, not her blue-collar roots, that led to her citation as a supposed trailblazer.