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

Cole R. DeLaune

The squall of outrage that has erupted in the 72 hours since footage of Massachusetts GOP Senate campaign staffers pantomiming the "tomahawk chop" and issuing war whoops initially emerged confounds logic and strains credulity. In the stampede to condemn Scott Brown for behavior in which he himself never engaged and for arguments that he never promoted, indigenous journalists; liberal commentators; Chairman Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; and, most disappointingly, the National Congress of American Indians upbraided the Senator for facilitating the advancement of an offensive and stereotypical mischaracterization of Native Americans. By and large, they have failed to register the true bigotry in the Bay State political contest: that of Elizabeth Warren, and her consistently racist conduct over the course of the summer. Various 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. 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. 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. Racism is on full display in Massachusetts, and it has been so repeatedly since late spring. Senator Brown has comported himself with honor and integrity throughout the course of the election, and assigning culpability to his name for an incident that he has already publicly reprimanded is injudicious in the extreme. Ignoring Professor Warren's disdain for Native Americans essentially validates it, and conjecture that she will position herself as an ally to indigenous peoples defies her persistent and reprehensible intolerance for them on the stump. Elizabeth Warren is no friend of the Indian unless you consider scorn and derision the hallmarks of camaraderie. Educated at Darmouth College and Columbia University, Cole DeLaune is a native of Oklahoma and Tennessee. He currently resides in Atlanta, and has contributed editorial content to Vogue and Elle, among other publications. He is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

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thechief's picture
looks pretty obvious that elizabeth warren was caught in a lie and now just hopes it goes away. I recall obama using geronimo in reference to osama bin laden and have yet to hear a apology. reality will tell you nobody outside of indian country cares about either case. i wouldn't spend too much time worrying about it.
jfortier's picture
Hate to say this to you pal, but according to Scott Brown's definition of what an Indian looks like, you don't fit the bill either, not to mention all the falsehoods in your op ed. ICT needs to insist that you do your homework before giving you a podium to pontificate outright falsehoods about Elizabeth Warren's claims to Cherokee Heritage.
katecooper's picture
What a besotted tirade over nothing. First you construct a totally false scenario and then use it to mow Warren down, what drivel. Brown created this whole flap himself. He brought it up with his dirty opposition research and he made a big deal of it. That was because he has nothing else to reccomend himself. Just because Warren wasn't on the barricades at Wounded Knee, doesn't make her a bigot. Talk about a right wind nutso stretch. What has Scott Brown done for Native Americans in the Senate? What will he ever do? Nothing. When he supports his heritage it will be flying to the UK and dancing with the Queen. Mabe the writer DeLaune, should stick to fashion magazines and return to politics when he grows up.
andre's picture
I find Senators Brown's actions troubling to say the least. He knew the props that would be used to suggest that Ms. Warren was not Native were wrong. What happened here was it backfired on him.
raybeckerman's picture
This article is a very unpersuasive hatchet job, not worthy of your publication. There is nothing in it which supports the invective of the author, who obviously has some kind of axe to grind. If you think a corporatizing elitist like Scott Brown is good for Native Americans, you should have your head examined.
laurelseed's picture
While Mr. DeLaune's pitiful writing style has improved sadly his construction of argument hasn't. Personally I'm less offended at being rebuffed than openly mocked, however, I'd rather not have either. The warped claim that the 'only racism on display has been from the Elizabeth Warren camp' is offensive. Not only has he dismissed these bigots, he dares to chastise fellow Native Americans. Warren's claims have been openly criticized, DeLaune cites examples of Native criticism further in the article. He owe's them an apology. Mr. DeLaune suffers from a chronic case of Reinforcement theory. He seeks out and retains ideas which support his pre-existing attitudes and beliefs, i.e. supporting Brown, and has used selective perception to both misperceive the actions of Scott Brown's staff members as satirical and is trying to dismiss their racism. Inane? Tasteless? How about unacceptably racist. How about in trying to mock Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown's senior staff ONLY managed to mock Native Americans. Satire would be to show(not wear) a fake headdress and equivocate it to Warren's claims. There is NO satirization of her claim in inauthentically aping Indians, proudly, in a manner which has never been embraced by Indians as anything other than offensive. This article gives evidence of Elizabeth Warren's avoidance and what strongly looks to be false declaration of Native heritage. DNA test Mrs. Warren? However, you can't make someone correct by proving another wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right. Denial of a wrong, just makes another wrong. Progressive's have done it too, so what? Their errors don't justify or excuse what has been denounced as racist. She doesn't look it? The late Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens is an example of someone who doesn't look Indian but is. I've seen many at IHS who don't fit the stereotypical look. In Mr. DeLaune's drive to sully Warren he would lower his self-respect and the self-respect of Native Americans by vindicating the appalling and blatant racism of Scott Brown's staff. Well, Mr. DeLaune can't justify it...their actions are racist. By not firing those racists Scott Brown is associating and actively employing racists. So what does one do? Don't tolerate it and certainly don't excuse it. Expect more of both candidates. Write to which candidate you serves most of your interests and tell them they've lost your support. If you're frustrated and disappointed with both, don't get discouraged and not vote. Vote for a third party. Third party voting is very threatening to both parties, a great example is has been the oversight of Ron Paul. Does Mr. DeLaune have the ability to write an article to delineate Scott Brown's platforms which tangibly support Native Americans? Can he keep the mud throwing at Warren out of his argument? Can he see his candidate clearly? Can he counter the criticisms made against Brown and openly clarify how and who exactly Brown would and has helped? Can He give the whys to those who would be adversely affected if he were to win? The idealisms DeLaune sees in Brown's rhetoric haven't been supported by Brown's actions. A journalist needs impartiality, objectivity, strong reasoning; not spin. Liars spin. Politicians spin. Mr. DeLaune to have integrity you need to look inward and ask if you would accept this behavior regardless of who it's from. If it's disagreeable yet someone you like expect more from them. If you can't, keep looking and actively support someone more deserving of your support.
coledelaune's picture
What point of argument is false? Please be specific. Brown clarified his debate remarks, and both apologized ("apologetic" generally being the adjective affiliated with that verb, after all) for the behavior of his staff, who he reprimanded. . . The only thing that's a stretch is your attempt to characterize a refusal to engage with Native community in the present, as well as a history of no discernible engagement with the Native population in Cambridge, as not being "on the barricades at Wounded Knee." Per your question, I'll pivot back to you: What has Warren done for Native Americans throughout her adulthood of self-identifying as one? Nothing, that we can tell.
coledelaune's picture
Again, please be specific on the matters on which I am incorrect. Scott Brown isn't promoting himself as the "first Native Senator from Massachusetts" on the campaign trail, unlike his opponent, who has never demonstrably interacted with the Native community in any meaningful way. Your mileage obviously varies, but I think someone whose campaign has actually engaged with Native American press generally demonstrates less of an aversion to indigenous peoples that a politician who has repeatedly and deliberately stonewalled Indians. Generally, you have to acknowledge people to advocate their interests.
coledelaune's picture
Although I didn't find the events particularly offensive for the reasons stated in the article, I understand that others do. . .And Brown apologized for the actions of his staffers. He said he reprimanded them, so short of firing them, I'm unsure what the appropriate punitive measure would be. And, if you feel it's the case that reductive stereotypes warrant termination, that suggests that Warren should resign her candidacy and/or her professorship for her own assertions linking race to physical features ("high cheekbones. . .like all the Indians do"). The point is that there is a total lack of parity in the attention aimed at the nuances of this contest.
myche's picture
What a line of garbage Cole, Delaune!!!!! I grew up in Indian Country of the Dakotas and I know racism when I see it. Scott Brown's campaign is full of the same put downs and racist comments I saw in all of my years growing up. Why don't you publish the websites which show Elizabeth Warren using her life story let alone her ethnic heritage for any kind of an advantage. You don't find it on her offical websites or on Wikepedia. What you find is an intelligent young women who grew up in a working class family who married a smart intellent fella. Her marriage allowed her to work hard and continue her education. She grew up in Oklahoma city and was a city girl whose father was a school janitor who had a heart problem. She excelled in high school and graduated in three years. There are no listed biographies or autobiographies written about her that report anything about what the social, culturall, and religious life of her family was. Mrs. Warren is a person of mixed ethnicity and what ever cultural activities she was involved in were her own families traditions. My ethnic back ground is Scandiavian/Irish and did not involve itself in any particular ethnic activities except maybe having ludifisk at one dinner and eating lefsa on the Scandinavian side and on the Irish side wearing green on St. Patrick's day and dreaming of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This doesn't change my ethnic background. Elizabeth Warren's family life in Oklahoma City doesn't affect her ethnic genetic heritage. Her family history says she has Native American ancesters and no one has proven this is not true. A DNA test would give some evidence of the probablility of her ethnic background. If she just wishes to accept what her family said, it's just as valid. Mrs. Warren is not applying for Native American benefits nor is she trying to affiliate herself with a tribe. The fact that you are going to such efforts to discredit Mrs. Warren is some indication of your prejudice towards her. This is why most people who have grown up in European American culture do not admit and even hide any hint that they have Native American ancesters. They have to put up with the ignorance and taunting of both the sides. There are Native Americans who call you a wanta be and there are European Americans who will taunt you about being Native American. I am sure my mixed ethnicity would have cause problems for me in past centuries. My thoughts are that you are a conservative trying to use this non issue for political gain.