Elizabeth Warren takes on race issue in commencement speech

Senator discusses 'rigged' system at Morgan State

By LAUREN DEZENSKI, CNN
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed her own race to a graduating class of students at a historically black university on Friday.

(CNN) - Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed her own race to a graduating class of students at a historically black university on Friday.

"I'm not a person of color. And I haven't lived your life or experienced anything like the subtle prejudice, or more overt harm, that you may have experienced just because of the color of your skin," the Massachusetts Democrat and potential 2020 contender said, according to her prepared remarks.

It's not clear if the comment was a rebuttal to last week's reported backlash within Democratic circles to Warren's decision to release a DNA test several months ago.

Warren's comment -- which prompted an immediate response from the RNC that she "fails to put this whole sordid saga behind her" -- was hardly the reason Warren was speaking to the students at Morgan State University.

Still, it's a sign her Republican detractors will not let go of the issue despite Warren's best efforts to neutralize it.

She spent much of the commencement address talking about how the system is "rigged" against African-Americans and their families. She also received an honorary degree.

"Rules matter, and our government -- not just individuals within the government, but the government itself -- has systematically discriminated against Black people in this country," Warren said.

Warren is a former college law professor and taught courses on commercial law, contracts, and bankruptcy before she ran for the US Senate in 2012.

Warren, widely considered to be privately mulling a 2020 presidential run, has wrestled with questions around her Native American heritage and the role it has played in her professional life since her Senate run. She was once listed as a minority in an Association of American Law Schools directory.

Warren and her previous academic employers, including Harvard University, have maintained that she did not benefit from it -- and this October, Warren sought to definitively answer her Native American heritage question through a publicly released DNA test.

That reveal brought on a backlash from some, including would-be supporters who soured on her potential presidential candidacy over issues with her judgment call to pursue the DNA test at all.

Warren also used Friday's address to address economic issues very much within her wheelhouse.

"Sure, there's a lot more going on -- educational disparities, a broken criminal justice, access to credit," Warren said. "I picked just one example -- housing -- but as a country, we need to stop pretending that the same doors open for everyone. Because they don't."

Warren, who frequently uses fighting imagery in her writing and speeches, returned to that as she closed her commencement speech: "I want this to be an America where hard work means real payoff, an America where the rules work the same for everyone. That is the true promise of our democracy. It's a promise worth fighting for."

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