In the recent scandal surrounding Sherman Alexie, we see a lot of people coming forward to give the Native American perspective who are not "Native Americans" in any meaningful sense of the term. It is a fact that there are Rachel Dolezals out there, and many of them are "Native Americans," or, to put it another way, there are a great many people representing themselves, often in a very official capacity, as Natives, who have little or often no relationship, genetic or experiential, to the people who opposed the likes of Custer, were slaughtered in the millions, were sent to gulag-like Indian Reservations (1), and were marginalized and continued to be marginalized today.
Implications for Affirmative Action
I am in principle in favor of the idea of "affirmative action," which I understand to mean the giving of advantages to members of an oppressed or "formerly oppressed" group, in order to acheive "parity" in all economic and governmental levels, i.e., such that the degree of employment and engagement matches the breakdown of the general population. It's unclear, however, which ways are good and which are bad for implementing it. It's unclear if there is any good way of doing it.
By the way, I worry that "diversity" may be a "feel-good" term that hurts more than it helps. In my view, what we're really looking for is "representativity," i.e., an organizational make-up that matches, proportionally, the local population. I doubt if there are many areas in the United States that are not "diverse," however, just because one area, or the whole country, has 40% hispanic population, for instance, doesn't mean than another area has. An organization in such an area, should, in principle, have 40% hispanic people working there. Women as a group may present a problem (2), which is probably a separate discussion.
We can argue about whether quotas, punitive taxes on companies that fail to maintain a representative workforce, or what-have-you, is the better way to acheive parity in the long term, but the unavoidable fact is that these "cheaters," or "pretendians" will rip the sails of any such plan, no matter how it is devised. The reason for this, and the possible solution, is memetic in nature.
How Do We Define "Nativeness"?
Ultimately, it's the majority, in the case of the United States, the "white" (3) majority who decides who gets the jobs, the contracts, the scholarships, the grants, the prizes, etc., earmarked for "natives." In other words, by their laws and their perceptions, the majority decides who is and who is not "native" (4).
This is where we come to the concept of contact memes (6). So long as group membership is determined by the out-group, i.e., by the system of contact memes in the mega-memeplex of the out-group used to "identify" or rather, "assign identity" to their own conception of the "in-group," cheaters can ply their trade merely by evincing the contact memes of the majority group, which is usually a very easy task.
We Say, You Say
There may not be a solution to this problem.
Obviously, "teaching" the majority group to be more sophisticated vis-à-vis the minority group is problematic (10). As the example of Rachel Dolezal's duping of the NAACP, in-groups may not be well-equipped to repell interlopers, so to speak (12).
Clearly, the contact memes which the majority use to identify minority members must somehow correspond to the memetic systems which in-group members use to identify themselves. In other words, in-group members must enact memes which out-group members resonate with (13).
Finally, the in-group must be able to detect cheaters trying to enter their ranks. It may also be necessary (14) that the defensive memetic sub-system of the in-group be connected to the expanded contact meme repertory vis-à-vis the majority group.
Summary and Conclusions
"Cheaters" such as pretendians derive benefits (15) from pretending to be members of other ethnic groups, i.e., traditionally oppressed minority groups. Memetic systems tend to defend against minority members "passing" into majority membership. There is little or no memetic defense against movement in the opposite direction.
Contact memes are how majority group members identify minority group members. They tend to be one-way, unsophisticated, and have little if anything to do with the memes which in-group members use to identify each other.
Pretendians and other cheaters trade on two major factors. First is the fact that the majority, who dispenses the money and status of an "affirmative action" system, distinguish minority members via an unsophisticated and easily tricked system of contact memes at best loosely based on the the minority group's memetic system. Second is that the memetic systems of minority groups tend to have weak defenses against interlopers coming in the "opposite direction."
A possible strategy for defeating cheaters would be for the minority group to "expose" some of their in-group self-identification memes to the out-group majority group, i.e., connecting out-group contact memes to actual in-group memes that signify in-group membership.
One idea I had would be for tribal members to announce their ancestry, e.g., their previous four or five generations of ancesters, in certain social settings. Announcing tribal affiliation at gatherings is a long-standing Native American tradition (and a tradition of other native peoples, e.g., Papua New Guineans), but pretendians tend to sidestep this or fake it. Listing one's native ancestors would be more difficult to fake, and is probably not socially awkward for natives to enact. Furthermore, True Natives would quickly find common ancestors, which would further exclude pretendians.
Just a thought. This idea at least serves as an example. "White culture" members could recognize that Native Americans list their ancestors, and even a relatively short list might quickly include famous names "white" people would recognize, e.g., Sitting Bull, et al. People who could not recite such a list of ancestors, or a list which sounded right or matched up with other natives, would be revealed as possible pretendians.
(1) I have heard that there is evidence that Josef Stalin patterned his gulag system after the US Indian Reservation system. Fact-checking needed here.
(2) Women often elect to leave the workforce to raise children. A problem with this is how many women (a lot!) leave the workforce because it's so unsupportive of women in particular and families in general raising children. Society, in my view, needs to make efforts to support women having children and having access to the workplace (see my other essays), but this starts to be more of a women's issue rather than an ethnicity issue.
(3) Whatever that means...!
(4) Or "black" (African-American), as in the case of Rachel Dolezal, where she got scholarships which "real" (5) Afro-Americans were supposed to get. She also duped African-American organizations (the NAACP) into giving her jobs, giving her their money under the pretense that they were hiring a fellow in-group member who 1) understood black issues, and 2) needed the job.
(5) One idea is that African-Americans and Natives are still oppressed by bigotry and discrimination, and also the fact that they had no opportunity to participate in society as full members and so were centuries behind the rest of the population in terms of amassing wealth and such.
(6) I give the example of Mormon missionaries who ride around on bicycles, wear short-sleeved white shirts and ties and big name tags that read "The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints" and "Elder Hansen." Non-Mormons associate these traits strongly with Mormonism, and indeed these traits may be most important traits to non-Mormons when thinking of Mormons (8). The Mormons themselves may, and probably do, consider a whole plethora of other characteristics of their religion far more important, and may in fact consider the bicycle thing "incidental," or along the lines of "oh, yeah, I guess we do that." They may think of, yes, religious missions, maybe aspects above and beyond bicycles, Family Home Evening, Sunday fasting, going to Temple, "Mormon underwear," baptism, genelogy, not drinking alcohol or coffee, etc. (7)
(7) Recovered alcoholics also avoid alcohol as assiduously as Mormons, but non-AAs associated that strongly with AAs and perhaps not so much with Mormons. Alcohol is a contact meme for AAs, but less so for Mormons (perhaps).
(8) The interesting aspect of contact memes is that the memes that in-group members use to determine their own membership with each other are different to the memes (9) that out-group members use to identify people as members of the group.
(9) For example, skin color and facial structure. Having long hair, a piece of bead jewelry, a dream catcher necklace, or in the extreme ridiculous example, buckskin outfits, among a few other things, identifies one as a "native" to the "white majority." Real cultures are much more complex and subtle, and out-group members are typically oblivious to the fine distinctions that in-group members make to determine membership, and to communicate with fellow in-group members.
(10) In principle, members of the majority group "don't care." Most members derive no benefit from being more sophisticated in the identification of "real" members of a minority group (11).
(11) A whole essay could probably be written about this. Often, the identification of a minorty group member is more about picking a victim, scapegoat, or token, so "accurate" selection is incidental.
(12) Apologies in advance for what is at best a macromemetic shorthand, but minority groups can often be in a "low-self-esteem" position, or "internalized oppression," where membership in the majority group is considered better in both groups, and not the reverse, and "passing" as a majority group member is secretly desirable by minorities, but outwardly hated and feared by both groups. The memetic expression of this is that large and complex memetic subsystems exist in both groups' megamemeplexes to thwart "passing" from minority to majority, while the reverse direction is comparatively undefended, unthinkable, bizarre. It is along this disparity that the "cheaters" ply their trade.
(13) If all out-group members know is that "no alcohol equals recovered drunk" then a Mormon, who doesn't drink, will tend to be identified with an ex-drunk. If out-group members are oblivious to details that distinguish AAs from Mormons, then they may do a poor job of distinguishing them, especially if they don't really care.
(14) further research required here.
(15) Building a forum, winning connections, getting actual money and other benefits, even including official position, recognition and remuneration by assuming a false identity.