Elizabeth Warren Effect? Census Reveals Surge in People Identifying as White Native Americans

August 17, 2021

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau announced a dramatic spike in the number of people claiming multiracial identity. Over the past decade, the number of Americans who identified as non-Hispanic and at least one other race jumped from 6 million to 13.5 million, an increase of 127 percent.

According to the New York Times, individuals who identify as both white and Native American accounted for 26 percent of that increase, which amounts to nearly two million Americans. Some experts are already attributing the surge in "multiracial" white people identifying as Native American to "the Elizabeth Warren effect," named for the U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

Though Warren has long claimed to be of Native American ancestry, those claims were not widely publicized until her first Senate campaign in 2012, just two years after the previous census took place. "Being Native American has been part of my story, I guess since the day I was born," Warren said at the time. "I don't know any other way to describe it."

Warren would eventually take a DNA test in 2018 that determined she was between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American. Even the Washington Post conceded that "relying on family lore rather than official documentation to make an ethnic claim raised serious concerns about Warren's judgment."

Critics accused Warren of having benefited throughout her career as a lawyer and law professor by presenting herself as a member of an oppressed minority. In 1986, for example, she listed her race as "American Indian" on her registration card for the State Bar of Texas, and continued to list herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools desk book. In 1997, the Fordham Law Review described her as the "first woman of color" to teach at Harvard Law School.

Nevertheless, she did not really suffer any consequences even after being exposed as a racial fraud. Warren was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012 and reelected in 2018. She declined to run for president in 2016, even though many pundits considered her a viable candidate. In 2020, Warren entered the Democratic presidential primary. Despite being beloved by rich white liberals, she was never a serious contender for the nomination.

Experts believe "the Elizabeth Warren effect" may have boosted the number of white people also identifying as Native American by demonstrating the limited downside to claiming a false racial identity. In fact, Warren's career suggests there are many benefits to doing so. Her most devoted fans are likely to be rich white liberals who are ashamed of their racial identity and long to be associated with an oppressed minority. Some of them may identity as bisexual or "nonbinary," while others may simply follow Warren's lead and claim to have indigenous heritage. Who's going to check, anyway?