What is Heritage, Really?

“I’m an open book,” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren proclaimed in a Massachusetts debate in October.

The statement came amid an ongoing tit-for-tat bout between the senator and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The political spat has roots in 2012 after conservative-leaning Boston Herald ran a story on Warren’s heritage, suggesting that Harvard University had essentially put this aspect of her identity on somewhat of a pedestal. The renowned Ivy-League university had even referred to Warren as “the first woman with a minority background to be tenured.”

During the 2012 elections, however, Republican candidate Scott Brown jumped on this report, stating Warren’s claims, and the university’s claims might have been a bit overblown. Brown’s campaign even went as far as demanding that Warren apologize for misleading the public.

Senator Warren refused the budge, explaining that she was proud of her heritage and that her ancestry claims had no impact on her position at Harvard. “I believe that I was recruited at Harvard because I’m a good teacher and recruited for my other jobs because I do good work,” she said.

Years later, though, now-President Donald Trump has refused to let the story go, likely due to the fact that Warren is reportedly preparing for a presidential run in 2020.

In October, President Trump targeted Senator Warren in a series of tweets, saying that she had misrepresented her heritage, once again demanding that she issue a statement denouncing her claims.

In the heat of the moment, Trump even pledged $1 million to charity if the senator could prove her identity. “I’m going to get one of those little [DNA testing] kits and in the middle of the debate, when she proclaims she’s of Indian heritage … ‚” Trump said. “And we will say, ‘I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.’ ”

And after several back-and-forths, Warren finally agreed to take a DNA test, but the results of the test add yet another level of complication the heritage debate.

What is Heritage, Really?

After a war of words, Senator Warren released the results of the DNA test, with Stanford professor and genetics expert Carlos Bustamante confirming that the senator’s DNA did, in fact, reveal some Native American heritage.

“While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, 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,” the report said.

Despite the findings, however, President Trump used the results to launch another tirade on Warren, suggesting that the report confirmed that she had overplayed her minority status.

The fact is, however, that due to the parameters of the test, Warren could be only 1/1024th  or as much as 1/32nd Native American.

Regardless of this, however, it is indicative of how genetic testing is changing the way millions of people across the globe think about their heritage.

Companies that test ancestry even peg this as a key issue in their marketing, suggesting that their products could potentially reveal something deeply meaningful to its consumers.

Though for some, especially individuals who are adopted or unaware of any piece of their heritage, these tests can reveal some important information. But they’re still not perfect. There’s a long way to go.

What do you think about heritage? Have you taken a genetic test? How has it impacted you?

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