As I’ve often pointed out, America has remarkably few examples of white people pretending to be black for affirmative action benefits, with perhaps more scandals over the years involving pretend American Indians. In contrast, Brazil has lots of brouhahas.
But, can Anglos get away with claiming to be Conquistador-Americans for the Diversity Pokemon Points?
Apparently not, at least if you are a history professor and you make other history academics jealous, because they’ll go look up your ancestors’ Census records on race.
From an anonymous website called Producing Whiteness:
Kelly Kean Sharp: Chicana?
3 days ago·8 min read
I have watched the unmasking of CV Vitolo and Jessica Krug from afar. But when an old friend pointed me to the twitter bio of Dr. Kelly Kean Sharp, currently an Assistant Professor at Furman University, I now had a similar example on the edges of my own circles. I had distantly known Kelly while she was a PhD student at University of California, Davis, and was more than surprised to find out that she was now describing herself as Chicana.
This discovery led to multiple conversations and a flurry of research on the part of people who had known Kelly at UC Davis. They approached me to help publicize her fabrication and strategic use of a Chicana identity. Though it remains unknown exactly when she took on this persona and how much she has used it professionally, many who previously knew her are quite confused. She had only ever identified as a non-Hispanic white woman as far as they knew. Allegedly, when some colleagues asked about her newfound identity she claimed that her paternal grandmother had been from Mexico. Okay, fine, we know that identity can be quite fluid and many of us did not want to embark on a project of gatekeeping that would not allow Kelly to celebrate her grandmother. Perhaps this grandmother had just never been a topic that she felt comfortable bringing up in the numerous conversations she had with friends and colleagues about her family and upbringing.
But when some of us looked into genealogical records, we found that Kelly had no grandparents who were born outside of the United States or had Hispanic names. This is much more in line with how Kelly identified at UC Davis. The maternal grandmother who she claimed was from Mexico, was born in LA to white parents and was residing in the US during all the census records of her upbringing. A servant was even employed and living at the home according to census records. This grandmother eventually married a wealthy, white lawyer from Iowa.
After that question was settled, we wanted to know to what extent she had claimed Chicana heritage since leaving UC Davis. This research has only brought new questions:
She described herself as a #Chicana Asst Prof in her Twitter bio. This was later changed to #Chicana at the end of the intro. Then, it was ultimately removed after a faculty member from the UC Davis History Department allegedly spoke with her due to numerous complaints from former graduate students. She has now made her twitter channel private.
She has made numerous tweets further implying Chicana identity, attaching various hashtags to communicate this identity, like #Chicana, #Chicanapride, and #Chingonasunite. Were these hashtags meant to further promote this claimed identity as a Chicana Assistant Professor? Even more, in one tweet Dr. Kean Sharp referenced the cooking habits of her “abuela” and in another she claimed this “abuela” came to the United States during WWII and “worked hard” to make Kelly’s career possible.
Part of this ethnic tale has included an exploitation of her California heritage. She comes from the city of Encinitas, known to anyone from California for being a wealthy beach community, essentially a white suburb North of San Diego. On her current faculty bio page for Furman University, she highlights this background, even claiming that this hometown has a “majority-minority population”. Supposedly growing up in this white minority town inspired her to study the antebellum US South, because it too had a majority-minority population. Encinitas is not a majority-minority city. According to the 2010 census, it is 79.5% non-Hispanic white. The median income is $113,175, higher even than San Francisco.
Encinitas is home to 1990s icons like Tony Hawk, the world’s most famous skateboarder, and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder. It is next door to Rancho Santa Fe, where Bill Gates has his winter home.
… Considering all these inconsistencies, we are left to wonder, how much did Dr. Kean Sharp benefit from such claims? What we do know is that Kelly immediately found a tenure-track job after graduating, a rare commodity in academia today, especially in the field of U.S. history, which produces, by far, the most PhDs out of all fields of history. Part of the reason for her quick success was that she astutely applied for a job in African American history (there are many less PhDs in this field). She managed to immediately move into a tenure-track professorship in that field, working dually in the Africana Studies and History departments at Luther College. This job was made possible by a Mellon Faculty Diversity Fellowship from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. This Mellon promises to provide tenure track positions to those “whose backgrounds and life experiences will enhance diversity on the ACM campuses”. Perhaps she won the job simply because she investigated the role of slave women in shaping consumption and markets in the antebellum South. But is it possible that the complex identity provided by her imagined Mexican immigrant grandmother helped her to secure this diversity hire?
We also must ask, how could this sort of position, meant to encourage diversity on campuses in this region, go to a wealthy white woman who had suddenly decided she was a specialist in African American history?
Unlike with American Indian tribe blood quanta specifications, nobody has ever defined how Hispanic you have to be to qualify for affirmative action. What if, say, she was told stories as a little girl that her great-great-great-grandmother was the beautiful daughter of wealthy landowner Andres Ybarra, who got the land grant from the Mexican government in 1842 for Rancho Las Encinitas, and her beauty bewitched Jedediah Kean of Boston into jumping ship and marrying her. (Note: I’m just making this up, but it’s pretty similar to what Elizabeth Warren liked to think about how she was descended from an Indian princess.)
Would that count?
What if your English family claims to be descended from, say, Katharine of Aragon’s Spanish lady of waiting at court of King Henry VIII? Does that count?
What if your Mexican maid was nicer to you than your own real grandmother?
Well, that one probably doesn’t count.
Still, all this endless ambiguity is part of the strength of affirmative action is that all these kind of amusing details are not spelled out. In places that tried to systematically spell out their racial favoritism, like South Africa, the details gave critics endless fodder.
In contrast, our system relies on the honorableness of white people … while constantly denouncing their honorableness.