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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myche's picture
By the way I watched the first debate between Senator Scott and Elizabeth Warren on video on the computer at about the time it took place. Almost the first words out of Senator Scott's mouth were him trying to discredit Mrs. Warren because of her ethnic background. I saw him say that he could tell by looking at Mrs. Warren that she was not Native American. I know that this is impossible having grown up in Indian Country in the Dakotas and having taugh school on the Rez. In communities such as Dunseith, North Dakota and Newtown, North Dakota which are part of reservations you can't always tell who is Native American and who isn't by looking at them. You can't tell by their cultural and family practices because the culture of the communites is mixed European and Native American. I have also spent one summer living the Dale-Selby area of St. Paul, Minnesota were there was a mix of Native Americans, African Americans, and European Americans living in a low income poverty area with a mixed culture. I am well aware of the cultural infighting between the Native American Church, and the different Christian churches and how this splits families. Native Americans whose families have lived for generations in the cities are often cut off from the Native American culture on the Rez. This does not make them less Native American. Its within this context that Elizabeth Warren grew up. Her ethnic heritage had its pluses and minuses. She had lots going against her success as a woman. This whole business is just the Republicans using ethnic prejudice to keep another senate seat.
raybeckerman's picture
Sorry, Cole, you're the one who accused someone of racism without an iota of evidence of racism. Don't ask me to make your argument for you. You should apologize.
tmsyr11's picture
Lizzy Warren NEEDS to "LADY UP" and be accountable for her actions, i.e. claiming her 'heritage' as an American Indian particularly from tenure with Harvard and being a person of 'color' as a politician. To further help, may I suggest the following: "The New England Historical Genealogical Society initially announced in May 2012 that it had found evidence for Warren's claims, but later recanted, saying, "We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent." A person of Warren's character who is adament about NOT MEETING with American Indian representatives only further brings legtimate questions to 'other' character issues she brings into politics. One example how she has practiced law in Mass. (which she admits) and gets away with it. For her actions and the seemingly rationalization provided by good 'indian scouts' of the Democratic Clan, I am only reminded of the Great Oz loudly proclaiming,...."pay no atention to that WOMAN behind the curtain"...
notnek's picture
Racism and political talking points are nothing but an effort to create impressions not related to the purpose of this publication. It has always been my impression that Indian Country Today was dedicated to historical facts, news concerning the nations and editorial thought. This story only serves to further a political intolerance and not worthy of this publication. Columbus day soon to be (celebrated)is the big lie, and that is what that should be aired by writers. A (celebration) of the beginning of monumental intolerance, lies , genocide and (wink wink) the wanton mixing of races do to total disrespect of native women. If there is some political points to be gained one way or the other,, so what! There are bigger problems in Indian Country than, is she or isn't she.
rezzdog's picture
You have to be kidding, right? Warren lies, but that is OK because she is a Dem? That is your argument? Brown is crass, to be sure. But, Warren, disrespects three Native women who wanted nothing but to meet with her, then she turns her back on the Native Democratic reps. And, all that is OK, why? Talk about examining heads.
jaydokie's picture
I am a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation is a progressive tribe yet maintaining our culture. We enroll our members based upon an enrollment ordinance that was crafted on requirements imposed upon us by treaty and our own beliefs. Last time I looked, Scott Brown wasn't on the Tribal Enrollment Committee for the Cherokee Nation, and neither were you. That would presume that neither of you, or anybody else, has the right to say someone is or isn't a Cherokee Nation member, or has lineage/ancestry dating to the Dawes Roll. This and other assaults on Ms. Warren are demeaning and derogatory. We can fight our battles, and we don't jump into other tribe's frays concerning membership or lineage. That's what makes each of us unique. Even Cherokee Nation members are ridiculed or teased when we say we are Cherokee, because after all, everyone says they are Cherokee. Mr. Brown does not have the right to make this an issue. Ms. Warren isn't a current tribal member, does not live in Oklahoma or running for office, and isn't asking my tribe for any support or participating in tribal entitlement programs. No harm, no foul. I wasn't enrolled until I was 25 years old. My Grandmother was a Cherokee full-blood, my Grandfather was a 1/2 blood Cherokee, my Father was 3/4 Cherokee blood. My Mother is Cherokee and the exact amount is still being researched, however, she was qualified and is enrolled based on what documentation she provided. My Father died un-enrolled. Society doesn't understand Indian thinking because they didn't travel the path we did. My Father refused to enroll because he didn't want the government to dictate that he had to prove he was a Cherokee Indian. Suffice to say, the Bureau of Indian Affairs did recognize him as a 1/2 blood Cherokee in their records. Does that mean he wasn't Cherokee, or any other Indian? Everyone is trying to fight our fight, but where are they while we fight the Cherokee Freedmen issue? No one is blasting Cherokee Freedmen, chasing them down the halls of Congress demanding they prove their ancestry, wanting them to take DNA testing, etc. I would think that you would be more concerned about the Kiowa rolls to which you are enrolled. That may be a acceptable cause for you. Your position is purely a political motive and once again we Cherokees are being used. Jay Daniels
chico2dc's picture
lets play "identify the member" of the young republican club, another warped worldview
swkyle's picture
"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." What is the "stereotypical look?" Racism is everywhere, even with those who purport to not be invested in it. I'm sure those individuals with the "stereotypical look" would be quite surprised that they had such a stereotypic look.
swkyle's picture
Has Elizabeth Warren said explicitly what her circumstances are and that if what you state is actually the case?
swkyle's picture
Though these are all the Cherokee's unique circumstances, the rest of us become entangled in them because of a lack of knowledge on the part of the general public and other tribal folk. For instance, it has impacted the Navajo Nation, when unenrolled white people say they are Cherokee because of a "family story" or whatever strange misguided notions tell them to. The previous Censuses took into account those white folk of vague Cherokee heritage and allocated Federal resources differently because of it. And the Navajo Nation suffered, people who live in some of the poorest counties in the country and rely on those funds for basic needs like healthcare or infrastructural monies for roads or plumbing. So it does matter who is or who is not a Cherokee unfortunately. The fact is neither candidate has given any indication of a clue about Native America. And for the record I was giving Ms. Warren the benefit of the doubt but after not even attempting to reach out to Native folk after this debacle began, I've changed my mind about her. I would hope that seeing this mess she would invest in congressional issues affecting Indian Country and issue some sort of false promise, as politicians are wont. But not even that has happened.