It wasn’t until the alternative and indie rock movements of the 1980s that we began to appreciate the full influence — and the seminal nature — of the rock group the Velvet Underground.
While the band, fronted by Lou Reed, had always been critical darlings during their original 1960s and early ’70s run, they didn’t sell much and weren’t considered in the first pantheon of late-1960s rock acts, up there with the Beatles and Rolling Stones in terms of influence. Their dark subject matter and sonic dissonance didn’t make for fun stuff during the Summer of Love or Woodstock, but any rock critic could tell you the Smiths or Nirvana wouldn’t have existed without them.
It may be that, in the years to come, we recognize Elizabeth Warren as the Velvet Underground of white women posing as people of color to gain career privileges.
We know that as early as 1986, Warren was identifying herself as “American Indian” on her Texas Bar Association registration card. Her evidence for this was a dubious family history and high cheekbones. The claim came as universities and law schools were making a push to diversify their faculty. By the time she got to Harvard, she was being touted as a minority hire.
While her ethnicity was a minor issue during Warren’s 2012 senatorial campaign, it didn’t get much traction and there wasn’t a whole raft of people in the same boat as her. It wasn’t until 2015, when it came out Rachel Dolezal had been posing as a black woman and had felicitously become head of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, that we began seeing her influence.
Now, it’s all over the place.
Jessica Krug, a professor of African and Latin American studies at George Washington University, admitted she’d pretended to be black in September, assuming identities of “first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.”
In October, Kelly Kean Sharp, a professor of African-American history at Furman University, was similarly unmasked as being white.
Satchuel Cole, a social justice activist in Indiana who said she was black, was exposed as being quite caucasian.
Even though being Spanish isn’t necessarily an identity of color, Alec Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Baldwin pretending to be from the island of Mallorca and a native Spanish speaker when she’s an English-speaker from Boston originally named Hillary Hayward-Thomas seems to fit into this category.
Now we have Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan. Bannan, 43, is a prominent attorney who purported to be a Latina for more than a decade; she’s a key player in advocating for Puerto Rican independence and was considered the first Latina president of the National Lawyer’s Guild.
And, according to a report from leftist nonprofit news outlet Prism, she’s a white woman who hails from Georgia.
“Nothing in Bannan’s lineage indicates that she can lay claim to a Latina identity. According to historical public documents, including census and naturalization records, Bannan’s paternal family arrived in the United States from Ireland and Italy,” Tina Vásquez wrote in a report published Thursday.
“Her Italian grandmother Lycia, the source of Bannan’s middle name, arrived in the U.S. in 1912. Records also indicate that Bannan’s maternal family all arrived in the U.S. from Russia. Court records from 1994, when Bannan was 17 years old, identify Natasha Lycia Bannan as a white ‘non-Hispanic.’ Nevertheless, in a statement to Prism, Bannan said she has identified as Latina for as long as she can remember because it was the culture she was ‘raised in.’”
Vásquez wrote that Bannan, who is “currently senior counsel at LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund, has publicly identified as a Latina for years, though the specifics of her identity and origin story have shifted over time.”
They seemed to shift again as this story came close to publication,
“I am racially white, and have always said that. However my cultural identity was formed as a result of my family, both chosen and chosen for me, and that has always been Latinx,” Bannan told Prism.
“My identity is my most authentic expression of who I am and how I pay honor to the people who have formed me since I was a child.”
She would go on to share a private Facebook post from 2016 in which she owned up to it, as well.
“My biological origins are Italian, atheist Jewish/Sephardic, some unknown (adopted grandfather) and who knows what else. My biological parents were born in the United States, and I was raised with only one of them,” the post read.
“Yet the Colombian family who I grew up with and who were responsible in grand part for raising me, who helped form my character and identity were from many different ethnic identities and backgrounds.”
Latina attorney Sophia Gurulé said she was particularly incensed when she would watch clips of Bannan talk about Latina representation in law.
“There’s an interview she did for LatinasRepresent that is just unbelievable to me because she acknowledges Latinas are so underrepresented in this profession. To me, it’s clear she has some kind of white savior complex,” Gurulé told Prism.
“In the video, she talks about being the only point of reference her Latino clients know; she says she’s a ‘bridge’ for them. All of it centers her and is framed like she is coming in to save our communities.”
“[Bannan] has no self-awareness or analysis of how she’s positioned herself or the power imbalance. She’s pretending to be Latina and pretending there is some singular lived experience associated with it that she somehow understands,” she added. “It’s honestly very disturbing, especially given her progressive politics and her constant talk of the colonization of Puerto Rico.”
Then there’s another interesting aspect of the article, in which Vásquez wrote that Bannan was “siphoning resources, positions, and other opportunities intended for Latinas and other people of color in spaces where she already had a significant leg up as a white woman — and in spaces where her claimed Latina identity was never necessary for her to advance in her career.”
Vásquez went on to list a raft of specifically Latina accolades Bannan won, fellowships she was awarded and publications she was accepted into, but that misses the point. There a whole host of arguments to dismantle in the piece, which is a long one and weaves a complex — and often contradictory — web of identity and what constitutes privilege. This one sentence is the easiest way to address the fundamental flaw that undergirds the article: If she already “had a significant leg up as a white woman,” then claiming a Latina identity wouldn’t have helped her in any way.
The number of spaces specifically carved out for Latinos in the legal world is small and a Latino identity is a minus in the wider legal profession, Vásquez claims in the article. Furthermore, several anonymous sources told her that “Bannan’s assumed identity isn’t exactly a secret in the legal advocacy community.”
— New York Post (@nypost) January 8, 2021
So then the appeal to her is that she’s putting on a show that’s not entirely effective to win positions in the small world of Latino-specific law rather than compete as a white person in the wider pool of law where whiteness is a privilege and being a Latina closes doors, not opens them?
To the extent that the piece dives (and quite involvedly) into the intersectional complexities of identity familiar mostly to those deeply invested in progressivism, it fails to get beyond that contradiction, much as it tries.
Perhaps there were some deeper psychosocial motives behind Bannan’s choice to identify as Latina, and we could understand the decision — but they wouldn’t have given her a leg up. Likewise, to the extent those motives didn’t exist or weren’t the primary driver, Bannan’s believed her choice gave her a leg up. One of those two has to be correct; she couldn’t have kept two sets of books.
Of course, neither her whiteness nor her Latina heritage will give her a leg up now.
Perhaps she should have learned from the Velvet Underground of white women claiming POC heritage and said that she had high cheekbones. Or maybe that she was 1/1,064 Latina. Or maybe just gone on an apology tour and then run for president.
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