April 25, 2019 | 60° F

EDITORIAL: Misuse of affirmative action is unethical

Falsely claiming minority identity for benefit undermines programs


When seeking to attain a position as a faculty member at Harvard Law School in the mid-1980s, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) formally notified administrators that she has Native American ancestry. Since the middle of the 2016 presidential race, President Donald J. Trump has poked fun at Warren for her claim that she was part Native American. At an event honoring the contributions of Native Americans during the World Wars, Trump insensitively referred to the senator as “Pocahontas.” In July, the president said that he would pledge $1 million to a charity of Warren’s choice if she were to release a DNA test that, "shows (she is) an Indian." Originally Warren intended to ignore Trump’s challenge, but on Oct. 15 she revealed that she had gone through with a DNA test and released the results to the public, which showed that she does, in fact, have some Native American blood — emphasis being on some.

When facing criticism for a lack of minority representation in their faculty back in the 1990s, the Harvard Crimson put out an article touting the minorities they employ. One of the minority employees exemplified was Elizabeth Warren, who had listed herself as a minority professor in a directory of the Association of American Law Schools. “Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women … Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American,” the Harvard Crimson article states. As we know now as a result of the DNA test, Warren really is part Native American — but only between 1/64th and 1/1,024th.

The extent of Warren’s actually being Native American probably ends at mere childhood stories about generations long before her. She did not grow up on a reservation or live culturally as Native Americans do. With that said and as has been investigated, it is likely that Warren really did not experience much of a personal gain in life at all for her Native American heritage. But the fact that an application of hers may have gained certain interest in the eyes of Harvard’s employers based on the fact that she listed herself as such brings up interesting questions about the nature of and loopholes within affirmative action programs. Is it ethical for a person to seemingly take advantage of affirmative action by listing themselves as a certain minority when, in reality, minority ancestry only accounts for a fraction of their DNA?

In a sense, it really does seem counter intuitive for a person to be able to take advantage of affirmative action in such a way. These programs are obviously meant to aid people from underserved and underrepresented communities in overcoming barriers that come with being a minority in America. Despite her blood saying she is technically not fully white, Warren has gone through life passing overwhelmingly as a white woman — and that being the case, she has likely never experienced the same social implications that an actual person of color would face. 

This is not to say that Warren specifically should be criticized, but anyone claiming to be a minority solely to reap the benefits of affirmative action when they are, in actuality, not a minority does a disservice to one of the ultimate purposes of affirmative action programs, which is to help correct existing social disparities and under representation based in race. In order to continue to correct these disparities, people must recognize the issue and understand that these programs are in place to aid people from struggling backgrounds. By claiming to be of an underrepresented minority when one is not, they are only working against the progress Americans have made away from systemic oppression and inequalities.  


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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