It's Sunday. I'm home. I've been applying to jobs, looking for apartments, grounded in reality, in the rigorous way that life forces you to be sometimes.
On a “Sunday Read” episode of The Daily, The New York Times podcast with Michael Barbaro, there’s a story with a title that will be personally difficult for me to listen to: “The Native Scholar Who Wasn’t.”
Description: “More than a decade ago, a prominent academic was exposed for having faked her Cherokee ancestry. Why has her career continued to thrive?” The article focuses on Andrea Smith, “Andy,” a prominent scholar of Native Studies who is revealed to have been faking her Cherokee ancestry to establish more credibility and meet more success in her field.
Keywords: Exposed. Faked. Ancestry. Why.
It’s okay, I know why a story like this is interesting. I’ll take a moment here to empathize with the interest: When people insist upon an ethnic identity, how do we know to believe people versus when to be skeptical? In the aftermath of generations of white supremacy designed to step on people of color and steal their resources, what could be worse than pretending to have the identity of a Black person, Indigenous person, or Person of Color (BIPOC) simply to gain more credibility in your field, let alone to steal that opportunity for success from actual BIPOC? And in a society that we all like to think is improving itself through social change and open recognition of its flaws, of course we would want to know how something like this could happen. If the titular subject of “The Native Scholar Who Wasn’t,” really wasn’t, then what allowed her to be one—to was—in the first place? Why was she allowed to speak as an authority on a subject about which she lied to obtain credibility? It’s shocking, isn’t it? How could no one have known?
I also know why a story like this is important. Someone who was faking an identity to take away opportunities from other more deserving individuals deserves to be called out, have her titles questioned, and her work stripped of much of its merit. I understand that non-BIPOC people profit in unusual ways off of BIPOC identities, and they deserve to be singled out for the harm they cause.
This story isn’t shocking to a person like me, not because it isn’t appalling, but because neither the person who is the subject of this article nor the story itself are the first of their kind that I’ve encountered. I understand why these sorts of things get sensationalized. I do. But with each one that I come across, I feel not desensitized, but rather more disappointed, more frustrated.