September 29, 2012

My thoughts on Brown vs. Warren

A Native colleague said he was going on the radio to discuss Elizabeth Warren and asked what I thought. My response:

I'm sure you've been following the story. I don't have any special insights, but here's how I'd approach it.

I'd say they both deserve criticism. Brown is obviously playing racial politics. He hasn't proved Warren lied or did anything wrong. (Believing a family legend without proof isn't a lie.) All he's done is insinuate that she's hiding something.

This issue has little or nothing to do with her qualifications to be senator. It's all about stoking the racial fears and prejudices of his followers. I bet they'd react the same way if she were an enrolled citizen, but the cheating angle is irresistible. We can see how they've responded: the stereotypical headlines, the war whoops and tomahawk chops, and the "Princess Little Big Liar" billboard.

Warren is obviously playing Indian. Like every other wannabe in existence, she has a rumor of a Cherokee (princess) in her background. Acknowledging that tiny alleged part of her heritage is one thing, but she listed herself as Native, period, in a cookbook, a directory, and a job application or diversity report.

She hasn't answered any of the key questions about her claims. Why did she switch from white to Native to white again? If she wanted to "network," why didn't she join a Native group or get involved in Native issues? She admits she told at least one school she was Native. How is that assumed identity not a crass career move to jump ahead of the line?

In short, I'd criticize both sides equally. They're both guilty of playing politics and obfuscating the real issues of tribal citizenship and identity. America needs a serious dialogue about these issues and they're blowing a golden opportunity.

P.S. The evenhanded approach also has the advantage of making you look better than any partisan on one side or the other. <g>


Someone on the radio show made a good point. People have learned to associate Indians with headdresses, war whoops, and tomahawk chops from a myriad of old movies, bad TV shows, and sports mascots. Once learned, they don't limit this behavior to "harmless" activities like rooting at a sports game. They're using it to ridicule someone who could be part Indian.

Note that the insulting behavior began before people investigated Warren's background. So they're not doing it because they proved Warren was lying. It's more basic than that. Whenever a controversy about Indians arises, you can expect ignoramuses to trot out the usual stereotypes: chiefs, headdresses, tomahawks, savages, drunks, etc.

For more on Elizabeth Warren, see More Racism from the Brown Campaign and Why Brown and Warren Are Wrong.

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