Sometimes a trivial embarrassment can become a teachable moment. It was recently revealed that Harvard professor and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren had self-identified as a Native American for nearly a decade -- apparently to enhance her academic career by claiming minority status. Warren, a blond multimillionaire, could not substantiate her claim of 1/32 Cherokee heritage. (And would it have reflected any better on her if she could have?) Instead, she fell back on the stereotyped caricature that she had "high cheekbones."
Not long ago, University of Colorado academic Ward Churchill was likewise exposed as a fraud in his claims of Native American ancestry. This racial con artist was able to fabricate an entire minority identity and parlay it into an activist professorship otherwise not possible for a white male of his limited talent.
In the Trayvon Martin murder case, the media was intent on promulgating a white oppressor/black victim narrative as proof of endemic white prejudice that still haunts America and thus requires perpetual recompense.
However, a glitch arose when it was learned that Zimmerman had a Peruvian mother. By university and government diversity standards, he could be characterized as a "minority." That bothersome fact threatened to undermine the entire hyped narrative of white-on-black crime. So the panicked media coined a new hybrid term for Zimmerman: "white Hispanic."
Note that the media has so far not in commensurate fashion referred to President Obama as a "white African-American" even though he too had a white parent. In Obama's memoirs, we learn that well into his 20s he self-identified as "Barry." Only later did Obama begin using his African name, Barack, which at some key juncture offered a more valuable cachet than did the suburban-sounding "Barry."
Is there anything wrong with such chameleon-like self-identification in an age when universities are full of hyphenated careerists and newscasters awkwardly trill their names to remind us of their particular ethnicity?
In the last 50 years, massive immigration from Asia, Africa and Latin America, coupled with rapid rates of integration and intermarriage, have created a truly multiracial society. So-called whites, for example, are now a minority of the population in California, and millions of people of mixed ancestry don't identify with any particular ethnic group.
Does a Joe Lopez, the son of a white mother and a Hispanic father, "count" as Hispanic while a Joe Schmidt, the son of a Hispanic mother and a white father, does not? What about a José Schmidt?