Let me get this straight.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is something of a dashboard saint to American liberals, principally for her retrograde leftism on economics. It was alleged a few years ago that she spent much of her professional career lying about her fictitious Native American roots. Warren listed herself as a minority in a professional directory and identified herself as a Native American. There was no evidence to support her claim, other than her own family lore and her personal conviction that she feels part Indian. And yet, when Republicans criticized her for it, they were denounced as racist by many defenders.
Touré, a professional expert on all things racial, wrote in Time magazine, “Warren has every right to define herself” as part Native American. “The only way we could truly gauge Warren’s Indian-ness would be to see how much being an American Indian means to her.”
Interesting thought, that.
A few weeks ago, a woman named Rachel Dolezal, another self-proclaimed expert on race (she taught Africana studies and was, until recently, the head of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the NAACP), was revealed to be faking it. Dolezal is white underneath her bronzer and braids. Rather than apologize for her fraud, she spoke eloquently about the fact that she just feels black. “I identify as black,” Dolezal explained on NBC’s “Today.”
Touré’s response? Fury. “When she says she knows what it’s like to experience blackness, I’m just like, no! You don’t! Just stop,” he fumed on MSNBC. “And I find it offensive that you would suggest that you do.”
While you try to find a coherent standard in this intellectual morass, I’m going to move on.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced this week that he’s running for president. In anticipation of his announcement, The Washington Post assigned two white writers to declare, in effect, that Jindal — the son of Indian immigrants — isn’t a real Indian. The Post promoted the story on Twitter with a quote from a college professor proclaiming, “There’s not much Indian left in Bobby Jindal.”
The liberal New Republic followed suit with an attack on Jindal, as well as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza (Haley is the daughter of immigrants, D’Souza an immigrant himself), as essentially Uncle Tom Indians who had to shamefully scrub their Indian identities for their political careers.
In The Post’s unsubtle telling, Jindal’s sin is loving America too much. As a young child, he changed his name from Piyush to Bobby (after Bobby from “The Brady Bunch”). “My parents put a strong emphasis on education, hard work, an unshakable faith,” Jindal told the Post. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what your last name is. You can be anything in America.” As a teenager he became a Christian.
“He said recently that he wants to be known simply as an American,” The Post informed us, “not an Indian American.”
The horror. Twitter erupted with hashtags like “Jindian” and “BobbyJindalIsSoWhite,” in which liberals flung every variant of Uncle Tom jokes you could think of, and many I hope you couldn’t.
So, we live in a world where Bobby Jindal is a fake Indian, but it’s racist to say an older white woman isn’t a real one (the correct term being “Native American,” of course). Nikki Haley is a villain for “suppressing” her Indian roots, but Sen. Ted Cruz is a fraud for touting his Cuban roots. (Cruz was recently grilled by Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin about how authentically Cuban he really is. At least Halperin later apologized.)
In “Barack Obama: The Story,” biographer David Maraniss recounts how Obama didn’t see himself as an American in college, mostly hanging out with Pakistani students as a fellow “outsider.” But as his political ambitions grew, he realized that had to change. His friend Beenu Mahmood told Maraniss that Obama was “the most deliberate person I ever met in terms of constructing his own identity.”
In Obama’s memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” he writes passionately about his conscious decision to identify as black, despite his mixed heritage, “to avoid being mistaken for a sellout.” Obama scrubbed any hint of white identity, eventually returning to the name “Barack” instead of “Barry.” One has to wonder: What if he’d made a different choice? Would The Washington Post and other outlets tout the line, “There isn’t a lot of black left in Barack Obama”?
I very much doubt it, so long as Obama ran as a Democrat.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.