September 30, 2012

Is Warren a racist?

The Only Racism on Display Has Been From the Elizabeth Warren Camp

By Cole R. DeLauneVarious critics of Brown first enjoyed the opportunity to wax moralistic when the Senator broached the subject of his opponent’s decades-long history of ethnic self-identification during the first debate of the campaign season on September 20. Condensing the extensive and unwieldy topic into time-limited opening remarks, Brown correctly noted that the Cambridge professor had advertised herself as an American Indian in a professional context, “and, as you can see, clearly she’s not.” The Senator since clarified that he was invoking a common idiom to emphasize the substantial evidence that suggests Warren is neither culturally or genealogically Native: as documented realities show, her dishonesty is easily discernible. Of course, sanctimonious fury arose, and the backlash mischaracterized Brown as deploying a myopically superficial definition of race as skin deep. The chorus disseminating this perspective would do well to refer to the comments made by Warren in early May, when she defended the claims to Cherokee and Delaware heritage that remain unsubstantiated to this day by declaring that she has, “high cheekbones…like all the Indians do.” Evidently, policing semantic constructs and political correctness is an inherently selective pastime, since Warren herself has invoked reductive stereotypes and external signifiers of ethnicity when she felt they bolstered her fabricated narrative.DeLaune goes from "substantial evidence that suggests" to "documented realities show," which is a big leap. I'd say we're still at the "suggested" stage, not the "shown" stage. Which mean Warren's "dishonesty" isn't discernible at all, much less "easily." Again, it's not a lie to believe something without proof.

DeLaune seems to think liberals were inconsistent for criticizing Brown's comments about appearance but not Warren's. Wrong. Indians and other liberals widely lampooned Warren's "high cheekbones" remark. If you think she got a free pass on that remark, you weren't reading the news.

No liberal criticism of Warren?Enter the recording of Republican aides mimicking a gesture once popularized for commercial incentive by progressive stalwarts Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. The seconds of inanity captured on the tape in question offend only basic standards of taste: the hyperbole of the scene clearly operates as a satire of the ridiculousness of Warren’s increasingly outlandish improvisations rather than as an expression of anti-Indian animus. But, of course, few authorities wasted any time in taking Brown to task . . . for the conduct of third, fourth, and fifth parties. The rush to ascribe moral responsibility to the Senator for the foolishness of others presents a stark and chilling contrast to the absolution Professor Warren has enjoyed for the appalling prejudice she herself has displayed.To review once more, conservatives haven't proved that Warren has no Native ancestors. More important, they haven't proved that she doesn't sincerely believe what her family told her.

It would've been wise to verify these claims, but she was under no legal obligation to do so. Whenever she claimed to be Native, she apparently thought she was Native enough to do so.

The counterargument, I guess, is that she secretly researched her heritage and found she wasn't Native. Or that she should've sought tribal enrollment if she believed she was Native enough. Or that she should've consistently listed herself as white or Native, even though people with some Indian blood often use both labels.

The so-called satire--war whoops and tomahawk chops--conveys none of these subtle arguments. It doesn't convey anything except a racist notion of what an Indian is. It's no different from what sports fans do when they're encouraging a Native-themed team. Or what little kids do when they ignorantly stereotype Indians as savages.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: When a so-called satire is indistinguishable from a racist attack, there is no satire. We can't mind-read Brown's supporters to learn which ones intend the "satire" and which ones don't. What they're conveying isn't "Warren would be an Indian if she had 1/32 Indian blood and enrolled in a tribe, but she's a phony because she hasn't met these conditions." What they're conveying is "Indians are savage brutes who would rather scalp someone than play by the rules. And so is Warren."

For more on this subject, see:

"Jokes" without punchlines are racist
Landover satirizes "Injun sin"
DJs learn not to satirize Natives
Okay to satirize in "satires"?

Racist to spurn Indians?During an interview in Springfield in early summer, the academic proclaimed that she would be “the first Senator from Massachusetts with a Native background.” However, since Harvard Law’s penchant for highlighting her as a “woman of color” who added a uniquely multicultural perspective first came to light in late April, Warren has refused to speak to Native newspapers and websites, including Indian Country Today, the largest indigenous media outlet in the nation. She rebuffed overtures by Native delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte to establish lines of communication. And, most memorably, she initially agreed to receive four liberally inclined Cherokee women who traveled across the nation to request an audience, and then, once they arrived, accused them of advancing a right-wing conspiracy. Nothing suggests that she interacted in a meaningful capacity with the indigenous population in Cambridge at any point during her tenure, and she has displayed no understanding of or familiarity with the rituals, customs, traditions, woes, and concerns that texture the contemporary Indian landscape.

When an individual so deliberately and consistently refuses to engage with a specific minority group, such aversions are generally regarded in and of themselves as commensurate with one pillar of personal bigotry. Imagine if any other candidate so repeatedly declined to acknowledge African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT men and women, Catholics, Mormons, Christians, or the members of another cultural community. Such demographics should consider how effectively Professor Warren will champion their interests in the Senate when she projects such transparent antagonism and explicit contempt toward the people with whom she insists she is so “proud” to share a heritage that has “always been a part” of her identity.
This is a reasonable summary of what Warren has or hasn't done, but it doesn't tell us her reasons. A few points on that:

1) Do we know that Warren has met with "African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT men and women, Catholics, Mormons, Christians, or the members of another cultural community"? I don't and I doubt DeLaune does either.

2) Indians are only partly a "cultural community." Unlike the groups on DeLaune, they're a political group as well because of their sovereign status. Has Warren met with representatives from China, Iran, or Palestine? Would she if they demanded to see her for the purpose of challenging her position? I doubt it.

3) The reason Warren is avoiding Indians is because she doesn't want to answer their questions. Not because she has some sort of aversion to them. In a tightly controlled political campaign, a Democrat usually doesn't give interviews to Rush Limbaugh, the NRA, or anti-abortion groups. Indians are like that at the moment--a political (not racial) group--that she wants to avoid.


I agree with DeLaune's arguments about what Warren should do: meet with Indians, answer their questions, and so forth. But I don't consider her "racist" because she hasn't done them. Sure, she may be prejudiced against Indians despite choosing to be one occasionally. But refusing to address their politically-based questions isn't evidence of racism.

Meanwhile, DeLaune is giving a free pass to Scott Brown for some unaccountable reason. Brown has stoked a race-based crusade against Warren based on an inconsequential part of her history. He didn't fire any of his staffers for the racist actions he provoked. All he did was claim he doesn't condone those actions.

Well, whoopee. Coming from the guy who's trying to launch a mini-race war, that's nothing. Brown is pandering to his white followers' racial fears, and they've responded the way whites always respond. Namely, with ugly stereotypes to bolster their weak-kneed courage against the scary "other." Brown has encouraged people to attack Warren and he's ultimately responsible for those attacks.

For more on Elizabeth Warren, see My Thoughts on Brown vs. Warren and More Racism from the Brown Campaign.

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