The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway has a blogpost up on how Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat who’s running against Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, identified herself as having Native American ancestry when Harvard Law was criticized for having an insufficiently diverse faculty in the 1990s. Aides explained that Warren’s “family lore” was that she had Cherokee and Delaware Indian ancestors. That’s plausible, since Warren grew up in Oklahoma, much of which was originally Indian Territory into which Andrew Jackson drove some 46,000 Indians over the Trail or Tears. Lots of people in Oklahoma have Indian ancestors, including I suspect many who are entirely unaware of it. I'm ready to accept Elizabeth Warren's story of "family lore" and to believe that the family lore could very well be true.
Hemingway’s blogpost is thus not really an attack on Warren so much as it is a criticism of the “diversity” industry, in which people are able to confer benefits on themselves solely by claiming to have an ancestor who was a member of an officially recognized minority—black or African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American. Hemingway cites the case of a University of Oregon schoolmate who got into a course he needed for graduation only after claiming to be a Native American. I can think of a somewhat different case. Some years ago Rep. Tony Coelho, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, applied for membership in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Coelho represented a district in the Central Valley of California with a large and rapidly increasing Hispanic population. The Hispanic Caucus folks denied him member. In reply Coelho, who is of Portuguese descent, pulled out a map of the ancient Roman Empire which showed the whole Iberian peninsula, including present-day Portugal, labeled as “Hispania.” His application was approved. The fact that he was in charge of doling out campaign and channeling K Street money to Democratic members perhaps had some connection with the decision.
Coelho could have made another argument. For 60 years, from 1580 to 1640, Portugal was part of Spain, ruled by the Spanish kings Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV. If Hispanic identity hinges on a connection with Spain, well, his ancestors were once ruled by the kings of Spain. I would have encouraged him to make this claim, since I could make a similar claim to Hispanic status. Some of my ancestors lived in Sicily, which was ruled by the kings of Spain for 300 years. In my view that makes me five times more Hispanic than Tony Coelho.
Sooner or later I think examples like these will result in our system of racial quotas and preferences being laughed out of existence. They were introduced in the early 1970s, based on a presumption that “white” Americans were irrevocably prejudiced against people who fit into these categories—at a time, in fact, when that presumption was rapidly becoming obsolete. Maybe we should just all define ourselves as Hispanic so that everyone will have an equal share in the racial spoils system. Didn’t the kings of Spain once claim to own all of North America?