Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Elizabeth Warren, the Social Construction of Race, and Affirmative Action

with 3 comments

by David

Elizabeth Warren, Native American?

The recent non-scandal/controversy of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be of partial Native American descent has been an annoying distraction from a glaring truth: Warren will be an awesome senator, probably the most progressive voice on the senate this side of Bernie Sanders. I really hope she defeats Scott Brown this November.

But the non-scandal/controversy is also a useful example for academics in the humanities of something we’ve long known: race is a social construction. That’s not to say that race doesn’t exist, but merely to say that it is malleable: sometimes individuals have the agency to fashion their own racial identities, sometimes society will thrust racial identities upon them. As NYU historian Jonathan Zimmerman wrote on Warren and race:

this story is important, nevertheless, for what it tells us about contemporary America. Like Warren, more of us are choosing new racial identities or — more commonly — mixed ones. That’s good news, because it reminds us that “race” itself is a fiction. It exists, of course, but only in our minds.

The other effect the Warren controversy has had is to bring up the issue of affirmative action again, as Warren is being accused of having used, or as her detractors say, invented her partial Native American ancestry to get her faculty jobs at Penn and Harvard. Though I don’t really care what Warren did here one way or the other, I am interested in the question of affirmative action. Starting tomorrow, over the next fews days, PhD Octopus will have a series of posts on affirmative action in academia. Mine will be posted tomorrow morning. Hope you all enjoy.


Written by David Weinfeld

May 24, 2012 at 21:00

3 Responses

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  1. Yes you are right, it definitely puts less queiaflid people into the field, and if we are talking about a field such as the medical one, I would DEFINITELY prefer a person becoming a doctor because he actually knows what he is doing as compared to someone who got to be where they are because of affirmative action or because of their relative knowing higher ups that can help him out (nepotism). When things like this happen, its really ashame to see that many people could possibly be turned down or away from something that they are equally or maybe even more queiaflid for than another person purely based on something that they cant even control like their race or just the people his or her parents or relatives know. I guess this can also be thrown towards “networking” as well. When a person networks, they are pretty much trying to make his or her own connections themselves in order to get close with an employer and find a possible job that way. When that happens, and lets say that a person may have amazing social skills but is only an average kid when it comes to grades, it really seems unfair that he would get the position over a guy that would maybe have poor social skills but excels greatly at his work and his grades. The things like that just don’t make sense in this society but thats just pretty much the way of life and whether we like it or not, its not going to change. Yeah sure, affirmative action can seem good at times (if you are the one benefitting from it) but in all honesty, I dont really think that its a good idea. In a class where we want everyone to be equal, I personally want to see affirmative action in this world abolished completely and have everyone on the same playing field. Then and only then can we say we are becoming more equal with one another. Just as affirmative action is set in stone in this country, nepotism also is. Actually, nepotism has been engrained in this world of ours since the beginning of time. Whenever you look back in the history books, you always see “family lines” or “family dynasties”, funny how they just always keep it in THEIR family? That I have to admit is one nice thing about our government, people get a more fair chance in order to hold a position of leadership, but even then in order to accomplish that, one must have amazing networking skills of their own or maybe even have nepotism work for them with a family member already in a seat of power. Regardless of whether its nepotism or affirmative action, both should not be in existence in order to make things equal for everyone, but if that happened, God forbid someone might actually get into a position because of pure skill and hard work as opposed to a CEO’s son not getting it.


    June 19, 2012 at 20:14

  2. In regard to the qutesion about affirmative action, I would rather have someone more qualified taking on a job or position than someone in a position to level out the playing field. In places like hospitals and the medical field, qualifications should supersede affirmative action because patients lives are at stake. The best of the best should be treating patients because they can perform surgeries, procedures, and any other medical treatments with the highest quality and lowest risk. The best and most qualified person for the job should be hired in all fields of work, not just medicine and without regard to skin color or gender. Someone should not be hired or not hired in order to level the playing field. In acting and theatre now, actors and actresses are hired based on talent and the ability to fulfill a role, not on their skin color or ethnicity. It is known as colorblind casting. For example, in the most recent Cinderella film, black singer and actress Brandy plays Cinderella and the prince is played by a Hispanic actor. Although these characters are typically Caucasian, Brandy and her counterpart in the movie were the most qualified for their respective parts in the movie. Other fields of work should take a similar approach to hiring .colorblind hiring. Work should be awarded to those who meet the qualifications, not according to affirmative action. Also, affirmative action can cause reverse racism or reverse gender discrimination.In regards to the issues of nepotism, qualifications should definitely exceed that fact that the candidate may know somebody within the company or organization. I have witnessed and worked with people who got jobs through nepotism. For five years, I worked at a neighborhood pool as a lifeguard. Many of the board members had children and used their power to get them jobs at the swim club. Last year, two veteran concession stand workers were not rehired because children of the board members wanted jobs there. Even though these two former employees were more qualified than the new employees, they did not get the job because they were not related to any of the board members. The one employee who got his job through nepotism is being charged with theft (from another incident unrelated to the pool but still unacceptable). I recently asked if he would be rehired after the incident, and nobody could give me a straight answer. He definitely should not get his job back even though he has a parent on the board. Also, somebody who is perfectly qualified for a job should not be rejected because they know somebody in the organization. A person should be hired on the basis of their talent, skills, personality, and the ability to work well with others in the organization. Gender, ethnicity, skin color, and who you know should not be a factor on whether or not you or somebody else gets a job.


    June 20, 2012 at 04:37

  3. If race is a social construction and it exists “only in our minds”, how can affirmative action be justified?


    September 25, 2012 at 18:35

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