Steve Russell: Addressing ethnic frauds

"In my last column, I talked about Andrea Smith's tenure case at the University of Michigan. I am Cherokee, and Smith has in the past claimed that same tribal affiliation. Her e-mail handle, I have learned, is ''Tsalagi.''

In my last column, I mentioned 15 refereed articles, two books written, book chapters written and books edited. These are the currency of academia: what you have done rather than what you are born.

We academics claim to rule a meritocracy. That is why article and book referees do not know the names of authors. The authors might be professors from another field, graduate or even undergraduate students, or current residents of the state hospital for the criminally insane.

If we hold the truth to be self-evident that all persons are created equal, then that equality ends in the nursery. This baby is fussy and that baby seems content. Some adults are drawn to the fussy baby and others to the quiet one with the knowing smile. Depending on which adults work in the nursery, the babies get more or less human interaction based on what they have done, although I hope we agree that a baby's cry is not calculated; not the first few times, anyway.

We disagree about the relative importance of nature and nurture, but most Americans, Native and non, find the notion of hereditary royalty quaint and the idea that we gain nobility by birth absurd. On this continent, before and after the white man, we gain nobility by being noble.

So we come to the question whether Smith is an ethnic fraud like Ward Churchill. My position is that even though not Cherokee, she cannot be a fraud of Churchill's stature. He made public statements that no tribal person I know would endorse. He then abused Hannah Arendt's work when he claimed that her study of Eichmann supported the idea that some undocumented worker washing dishes in the Windows on the World restaurant deserved his fiery death on Sept. 11, 2001. Or, for that matter, some newly graduated kid who was learning to trade stocks because her goal in life was wealth."

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: When does ethnic fraud matter? (Indian Country Today 4/4)

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