Self-Identification Theater

This just in. Simply put, we have a tortured relationship with race in the US, a relationship our leaders just don’t seem to be able to rise above; indeed they continually make it worse. The case of Elizabeth Warren is case in point.

The Washington Post does a nice job of explaining how we got “here” in the Warren controversy, such that I don’t need to revisit it here in full. Scott Brown seized on Harvard University touting her minority status and demanding she apologize; she said she didn’t see fit to apologize for her family heritage.  And so it goes: we all know how candidate and now President Trump has handled it.

This week the now Senator Warren released the results of a DNA test she took that suggests (some say “prove,” but in my opinion any time you have to have a human analyze the data and give a projection it only suggests) distant Native American heritage. Some 6 to 10 generations in the past.  She has turned this into an argument for the idea that Trump likes to say her mother lied about her heritage.

The thing is, that’s too simplistic, and really does violence to the real issues here.

First, she really did lie on her EEO form. She didn’t release that document, but SHRM has a sample here. Employers of a certain size are required to report statistics to the Federal government, but aren’t allowed to require self-identification; it has to be voluntary and if it’s not supplied by the employee, the employer is required to assign an identification based on visual evidence. I haven’t heard anyone accuse Harvard to assigning a race to professor Warren, so it remains undisputed she self-identified.

“The employer is subject to certain governmental recordkeeping and reporting requirements for the administration of civil rights laws and regulations. In order to comply with these laws, the employer invites employees to voluntarily self-identify their race or ethnicity. Submission of this information is voluntary and refusal to provide it will not subject you to any adverse treatment. The information obtained will be kept confidential and may only be used in accordance with the provisions of applicable laws, executive orders, and regulations, including those that require the information to be summarized and reported to the federal government for civil rights enforcement. When reported, data will not identify any specific individual.”

EEOC

What she did release however, to her credit, is personnel information across her academic career – rather transparent, but I surmise that’s to make a rhetorical argument that the President should release his tax returns. She didn’t release information from her appointment immediately preceding Harvard, but she did for the University of Texas, here and here. As of June, 1988, she was self-identifying as “white.” As of December 1995,  she had been self-identifying for 4-years (so, 1991) as “Native American.”

Here’s what I consider a pretty fair explanation of what “self identification” means in a racial context: “Racial identification occurs when individuals consider themselves to be a part of an imagined conglomerate of people who are presumed to share certain physical, cultural, intellectual, and moral traits. This identification can be made for cultural, social, legal, or political purposes, and it involves both self-identification and categorization. Self-identification is the choice individuals make when confronted with racial choices.” I like this because the reference does a nice job with explaining the nuance of race.   Why do I not provide a definition of what the EEOC considers “identification with a racial group?” I can’t find one. To the best of my knowledge, there is no official definition as to what it means to “identify” as a member of a racial group.

So it would seem there is not objective means by which one can “identify” as a member of a particular race.  It would seem that there’s not even good data on the percentage of white Americans with Native ancestry.  This makes sense, really. Geographic differences would account for a lot of that: there is no “average” for reasons highlighted in my link describing self-identification. there’s no discrete “White” race.  The Washington Post reports that the Republican National Committee suggests that Warren’s recent DNA test suggests only that she may be quite average in terms of Native ancestry – but I submit that may depend on the group she’s being compared against.  Regardless, “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.”

“To put that in perspective, Warren might even be less Native American than the average European American,” the RNC said, pointing to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics that found that “European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American.”

She’s trying to make the case that family lore said she has ancestors, something backed up apparently by the DNA results. But that doesn’t explain why if this had been family lore, that she decided somewhere in her 30’s to decide to identify as “native American.” Perhaps her time in Austin influenced it, perhaps there are other reasons.  Regardless, I submit having one ancestor in the range of 6-10 generations ago probably doesn’t qualify as a basis for “identifying” as a particular race. This is the question that hasn’t been answered, and it’s really the only one that matters here. Did she lie to get ahead at Harvard? Who knows, there must be *some* reason, but it seems to me that this is not even a conversation worth having.

Her response to the controversy starting with Scott Brown has been incredible, meaning lacking in credibility. She’s helped perpetuate it by giving us this family lore story. Brown should never have entered into the debate – everything here has been in the context of private employment, as “self identifying” (a term without a real definition). The issue has been, and continues to be, an attack on EEO.  Elizabeth Warren has allowed herself to be a pawn here, which allows the GOP to continue to use race as a wedge issue. She’s shown herself to be really just a politician and no better than Trump.

By getting the DNA test, she’s responded to Trump by being Trumpy. She’s playing his game. Demanding he donate the $1-Million he wagered against her “being an indian” to  National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. She’s playing the same offensive racial game of dividing a conquering, perhaps cloaked a little better, but certainly no different. She’s responding to a non-issue she helped exacerbate, by creating another issue.  This is all theater. And none of it is helpful.

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Leave Me a Message at the Tone

I found a “bonus” episode of a podcast I listen to occasionally in my feed. It’s about the power of the human voice and discusses, in part, the physiological effects of hearing the voice of a loved one on the body.

Nothing new or earthshaking there, but then it was revealed one of the speakers had acquired a new phone and lost the only message he had from his now deceased mother.

Hearing the voice of a loved one has the same chemical affect on your body as hugging that person. Hugging releases oxytocin and generally relaxes.  According to a 2016 article in US News: The hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.  Just hearing her voice was treated by his brain the same way as a hug, with all those positive benefits, and now, he’d never have that again.

In 2011, I got at first iPhone as an upgrade from my top of the line Motorola Q – the best technology 2005 could offer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I too would lose the only recording I had of my dads voice.

For the previous 3 years, I had replayed that voice mail often. Just calling to check in, “I love you…” just thinking about hearing that makes me happy. In the time since he passed on, the sadness I would feel has become far less pointed. But man I wish I still had that recording. There are times I could really use that rush of neurotransmitters like the ones awash in your brain when you get a hug. Those times where I can sit and reflect and wish I could ask Dad for his advice.

I remember being incredibly upset about losing that recording. It was an obvious sense of loss, but I never really thought about it in quite the way the biology was presented today. A hug. I was missing the hug from my dad.

This year was the 10-year anniversary of his passing; the passage of that amount of time remains unfathomable to me and I could’ve really used that connection both on the anniversary and at a myriad of other times in the last 7-years or so.

I now know that others have had the same experience and suffered the same loss and I now know that there’s a real, biological effect of hearing that voice. It’s somewhat humbling in that having that recording in the first place was a relatively new phenomenon in human history: I’m sure he would have loved a recording of his father, but alas all we had were photographs.  So in the end, I’ll choose to be happy for having that extra time with his tired, fading voice.

 

2018 Race Recap #46: BAA Half Marathon

I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to feel about this race. The last half I did was horrendous after running it with a chest cold and the one previous with a taped up shin splint.  I really wanted to hit a personal best, and ideally hit 1:45:00.  That didn’t happen, although both were fully within reach. In the end, this was a long heaving “meh.” Sure. I out performed all but two previous halfs, but then again this was only my 9th – one of which was a trail race, so it’s not wholly comparable.  I felt great heading into mile 6, averaging about 8 minute miles and then…not so much.  I take some comfort from the idea that this is a big boy’s race – not flat, but “rolling hills” – but when you head in with certain expectations that aren’t met, it kind of stings.

It’s funny, I grew up around here. I remember rolling with my friends in Linda’s 1974 Pontiac Le Mans down the Jamaica Way, and never once did I say, “hey, you know what would be awesome? RUNNING this!” And yet, here I was. AND I paid to do it.  It had been years since I had been in this area and had forgotten just how hilly it is. That said, at this point I’m just griping.

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A slightly disappointing time, but I didn’t die.  At the 10-mile mark, I was at 1:25:00. It took me almost a full 30 minutes for the last 5k of the course. This is what upsets me most – I had a 5k in front of me and I blew it.

Normally, I wouldn’t have much to say about the course. It’s not waterfront. It doesn’t go through any historic areas of significant (other than my own personal history, I suppose), and yet when I was researching the elevation profile beforehand so I knew what to plan for, I found a blog  that was doing pretty much what this one does: a little bit of everything (actually, I kind of dig how he outlines his race results) but more specifically he recaps his races.  In it, he details the course – how beautiful it is.  Now, his review was from 2014 and I know the course hasn’t changed, so I deliberately took the time to pay attention. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was a fresh look at an area I so often overlooked as a kid.

The homes ARE magnificent, and the area really is beautiful along the “emerald necklace.” I’d like to thank him for that point of view because I wouldn’t have seen it left to my own devices.

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It’s always nice having friends along the course.  Photo Credit: Joan Recore

As for organization, it’s the BAA.  It was top notch. Plenty of porta-potties, bag check was super organized. The only thing I was disappointed about was that according to the BAA, there was a cap of about 9000 runners: 3000 of whom entered by virtue of their distance medley (a 5k, 10k, and half-marathon), another 6000 or so entered first come first served and for charity, yet, the results show I was one of  6220. Hey, we’re in the age of Trump where apparently attendance numbers can be a subject of some dispute.

 

Previous Results

Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon 1:54:11
Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32
Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48