September 25, 2012

Brown:  Warren doesn't look Native

Scott Brown channels Jesse Helms

Scott Brown channels his inner Jesse Helms and attacks Elizabeth Warren for "using" her Native American heritage

By Joan Walsh
In last week’s debate, Brown channeled Helms when he attacked Warren. “Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of color, and as you can see, she’s not,” he said. “When she applied to Penn and Harvard, she checked the box claiming she was a Native American. Clearly she’s not. That being said, I don’t know, and neither do the viewers know whether she got ahead as a result of checking that box.”

There are so many things wrong with Brown’s take on Warren’s heritage it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, “as you can see” isn’t the way we classify people racially. Given our nation’s history of racial mixing, it’s a dangerous and insensitive place to go. It showed Brown up as cosseted in his own white world, unaware of the complexities of diversity—that people can wind up looking like one ethnicity when they are actually from another.

Most important, it showed Brown is willing to play on the anxieties of white men that women and minorities are using affirmative action to take jobs they should have. He came right out and said we don’t know “whether she got ahead as a result of checking that box.” It was astonishing. Watching the debate at the time, I tweeted, “I cannot believe Scott Brown talked about Warren’s racial background so stridently. It’s like the old ‘white hands’ ad.”

I’m not denying there are reasonable questions about Warren’s racial heritage and how she has identified herself over the years. Earlier in the campaign, she took too long to answer some of those questions. But her story that she was told she had Native American heritage by her family—in fact, that her parents had to elope because her father’s family disdained her mother’s family’s Cherokee and Delaware background—and that she never questioned it, has the ring of truth to those of us who’ve grown up on complicated family stories about ethnicity and secrets. In a Boston Globe story this weekend, some of Warren’s cousins corroborated her story, saying they too were told of ancestors who hid their Native American ancestry, while others said they’d never heard that (Warren’s siblings backed her up right away).

For Scott Brown to decide he’s going to be the arbiter of Warren’s complicated racial heritage is the height of white male privilege and arrogance.
Really, Scott Brown?

By Josh MarshallNow, there’s a whole complicated debate about what it means to “look white” and obviously there are different hues of Cherokee in the US today. But I think the examples above speak for themselves. Brown apparently thinks that if Warren were a real Cherokee she’d be over there at the podium with dark-hued skin, war paint and a feather headdress.

Whether Warren was right to claim some level of Indian ancestry or whether she’s credentialed with this or that tribe I don’t really know or care about. But this “she don’t look Indian” line Brown is now basing his campaign on is ignorant to the point of offensive.
Comment:  Newspaper Rock readers would never make this mistake, I'm sure.

For more on Elizabeth Warren, see Dueling Ads on Warren's Heritage and Brown Confronts Warren About Heritage.

Below:  Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation.

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