Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke, Cultural Appropriators
As identity politics and victimhood become the party’s defining signals of virtue, it’s only natural that some white people want part of a more in-demand cultural identity.
Elizabeth Warren wants to be Native American. Robert Francis O’Rourke wants to be Latino. But they aren’t. And they’re being hoist on the left’s own petard.
I’m a fan of cultural appropriation. I think it’s actually healthy for the dominant society to incorporate some aspects of other cultures. This makes us more diverse, more interesting, and more tolerant. But many on the left strongly disagree with me on this. They hate themselves for loving yoga, and don’t think two white women should be able to own a burrito cart in Portland. They are adamant about it.
This leads to what some might call cognitive dissonance, or even hypocrisy. After all, the people most inclined to frequent yoga studios and burrito carts in the Pacific Northwest are rich white liberals. You know, the kinds of people who might vote for Democratic politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke—arguably, the two most beloved darlings of the left.
Should “Beto,” as O’Rourke calls himself, and “Pocahontas,” as Trump calls Warren, get a pass on cultural appropriation? I think not.
Let’s start with Warren who, this week, decided it would be a smart idea to release a DNA test showing that she has some claim to Native American ancestry.
Regardless of whether her DNA test demonstrates a large enough percentage of Native American blood to justify Warren’s claim (the whole thing seems pathetic and laughable to me), when it comes to the specific question of cultural appropriation, the stinging rebuke issued by the Cherokee Nation is utterly damning: “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong.”
Making matters worse, during an interview with NPR, Chuck Hoskin, Cherokee Nation secretary of state (and a Democrat), basically accused Warren of cultural appropriation. “[O]ften it is about appropriating our identity and our culture,” Hoskin said.
“You know, we fought long and hard for this status,” he continued. “It's a legal status that we use to fight for the rights of Native children, to protect our lands. And when someone comes in and boasts that they took a DNA test so they're Indian, we think that erodes what it means to be a Native American in this country, even if they don't claim a specific tribal nation citizenship.”
Of course, the even hotter liberal commodity today is O’Rourke, the rising star who has been “lauded and cuddled by reporters,” even as his campaign for senate in Texas looks increasingly destined to fall short.
The cultural appropriation charge comes from the fact that O’Rourke is obviously an Irish surname, but the Latino nickname “Beto” (short for Robert Francis) suggests Hispanic heritage.
In a piece boasting about this “Irish-American” candidate, the Irish Examiner newspaper explains that “O’Rourke is the son of Melissa Martha Williams and Judge Pat Francis O’Rourke, whose forebears emigrated to Texas from Ireland in the 19th century to help build a railroad in the state.”
Just as the gatekeepers at Cherokee Nation felt slighted by Warren calling herself a Native American, O’Rourke has faced similar obstacles from official sanctioning bodies. Back in 2013, for example, he was deemed ineligible for membership in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “For us, we have to have Hispanic descent to be in the caucus,” Kristian Ramos, the CHC's communications director, explained to the Texas Tribune.
To be fair, O’Rourke’s childhood in El Paso takes the edge off of what might be viewed differently if he, say, just moved to the state and adopted the nickname. Still, one wonders what people would think if I started calling myself “Mateo.”
There’s also the irony that O’Rourke is running against, you know, an actual Hispanic. As of now, Beto is not running well enough among Hispanics to come out ahead of Ted Cruz among that bloc in polls, which at least suggests the “Beto” ploy (and speaking fluent Spanish) isn’t enough to win over an entire voting bloc.
Still, partly aided by what the left might call cultural appropriation, O’Rourke has run an impressive campaign—giving Cruz a run for his money.
Warren, conversely, is no longer touting her Native American heritage. Instead, she’s (clumsily) trying to take the issue off the table.
One suspects that this is just the beginning—that there will be more Warrens and O’Rourkes to come. As whites feel increasingly shamed (for everything from the patriarchy to colonization), and as identity politics and victimhood become the defining signals of virtue (especially within the Democratic Party), it’s only natural that some white people would want to appropriate what is perceived as a more sympathetic cultural identity.
Again, I think the concept of cultural appropriation is nonsense. We should be happy when it happens—call it a sign of progress, even. But if liberals want to construct these rules for the rest of us, they should expect to be held accountable to their own standards. And based on the way things are currently playing out for Warren and O’Rourke, it seems they are.