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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gizmodo's picture
Nope, Mr. Daniels. Warren isn't out on proclaiming in interviews that she'll be the first Cherokee-Delaware Senator from her state; she's out there saying she'll be the first "Sen from Mass with Native American heritage." The news coverage this has yielded hasn't scrutinized the question of, "what does it mean to be Cherokee?" The media has ruminated on, "What does it mean to be Native American?" That's pretty consistent with the point the author made in a previous statement about mainstream American regarding Indians not as interlinked communities, but rather one large single group. So Mr. DeLaune can write about it all he wants. He's not weighing in on Cherokee enrollment thresholds. He's addressing the fact that Warren has disrepected the collective Native media and Native Americans, including and aside from Cherokees.
laurelseed's picture
A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. In my experience the stereotypical indian has been a couple dozen or so Native American actors who've worked in film and television and non-natives who have been portrayed as Native American. My family members and I are almost always mistaken as Latin, Pacific Islander, Phillipino, and Hispanic. Usually it's by members of that race. When people ask our race and we answer Native American the get surprised and say "you don't look Native American." Then either you get a look of revered curiosity or a skeptical "what tribe" and "are you registered?" This almost always makes us laugh. But we're not unusual looking and look like our fellow tribe members in Oklahoma and New Mexico. When we ask what we should look like, they say like on TV or in the movies. Sometimes someone will apologetically say they see it. But you know they're trying to because they're apologizing and you can hear that they're reaching by the tone of their voice. Friends will be honest and say they just don't know what Indians look like. But it's a guessing game for us too when we travel across the great US of A and see strong characteristics in other tribes which don't look familiar. So when I hear or read that someone doesn't 'look' like a certain race, I ask 'how do you know?' Often we don't. It's become easier for me to see the physical differences between my Korean, Japanese and Chinese friends because we've delineated them throughout the years but to them it's pretty obvious. And we kid each other when we have to guess someones race. My black friends laugh that people still can't describe what a black man looks like, i.e. eye shape, nose shape, mouth shape, hair line, complexion, etc. And we all kid about when we are upholding a stereotype. But we kid, we've never accused another of not being that race or culturally valid. Which is why we're friends. We don't like it when others of any race do, you're correct racism is everywhere, and we'll try to tactfully say so. I'm sorry I wasn't tactful enough for you. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the Christopher Stevens was Native and has set a positive example for Native youth to follow. I wouldn't have guess it, and I didn't question it's validity. Scott Brown said that clearly Warren didn't look Indian. He then had to back peddle in a separate statement after his faux pas had been pointed out to him and say she didn't present proof. But in my eyes his initial comment still stands because the statement itself, she doesn't look it, is made from a preconceived opinion which isn't based on reason or actual experience that people of a race look a certain way.
laurelseed's picture
You're right my punctuation was wrong, mine is commentary not publication, and you cannot validate someone's idealisms and writing style by correcting another's punctuation. If you could, you's rule yourself out of the debate since baby steps is a two word phrase. Has your error automatically invalidated your comment or your criticism of my punctuation? No. I stand by my criticism of that last article's verbosity, overuse of words, and grandiloquence, using pompous or bombastic diction. It and Mr. DeLaune's rebuttals were truly awful they created vicarious embarrassment: discomfort when watching someone else embarrassing themselves, which is intensified when the person embarrassing themselves is not aware of how embarrassing their behavior is. You do him a disservice by reenforcing his choice to writ dribble. However, I find your description of 'vibrant detail' of my comment as proof that concise language and valid argument carried the day since it caused such a visceral reaction from you and it was easily quotable. I challenge you to ask another to read the last and this article and judge which is superior. Yes, Mr. DeLaune is taking baby steps. I also disagree that the conduct wasn't congruent with racism since whoops and the 'tomahawk chop' isn't associated with anyone other than Native Americans. These are a portrayal of indians as butchers wandering the country attacking without cause whooping and collecting scalps. This stereotype of a violent culture who needed to be ethnically cleansed for the good of all, including themselves, was successfully used to justify Native American slaughter and to keep indians from organizing, self governing, and gathering for religious and cultural purposes. It became a tool used to create biased federal laws to limit and over-regulate tribal sovereignty over tribal lands and later on reservations. The indian who stood up for himself was trapped by this stereotype, as it easily exaggerated him into a motiveless criminal killer. It was used to sell newspapers and dime novels and was believed by settlers and soldiers who were consequently motivated to kill first. It was a precursor to other negative stereotypes, after used as an excuse to heard native into dependence upon the state, it birthed another stereotype that indians are an entitled lazy burden of moochers upon tax payers. Which has recently evolved into the misconception that we live in luxury with free educations, gas, and have money rolling in from the casinos, therefore if any live in poverty it must be because of their own misdeeds. Created since Jamestown and still existing, it has been the most pervasive, enduring and believed stereotype of or role in history and in media throughout the world. Scott and Warren did say her heritage was about looks, they stated 'high cheekbones' and 'clearly doesn't look it.' Don't dismiss or justify bad behavior, willful ignorance helps those who want to manipulate you. Accept it if you choose but with the eyes wide open. Both have offended Native American groups, so the indian vote will have to decide who to vote for based upon the a candidate's stance on other issues and how those correlate with their interests. This isn't new, life hardly ever hands us clearly cut correct choices. Managing consequences of choice is best done with the most accurate information possible. You say Brown is a better candidate for native people because he has admitted and taken partial responsibility of offending indians, yet how his policies have affected native people would be misleading the point. I say have a higher standard. Asking what has Scott Brown done for Native American's is misleading how? He's Mr. DeLaune's candidate and this is a publication geared toward Native American issues. It's better to vote and keep on voting, than get discouraged with choices and not. When faced with two unappealing option why not take a third or fourth. Yes, there are leftist grassroots organization, and there are Libertarian organizations(conservative yes, grassroots yes) which will happily take your vote. And the main two parties do notice those votes. If one were faced with a medical situation and had two choices in which neither were favorable would one seek out information about other possible treatments? Sure, information doesn't rule options out. One would look at all the options and be watchful and wary of the undesirable elements of that option, not willfully blind of the possible effects of said option. One would want accurate information based on facts and results and wouldn't give credence to an over-reaching argument based upon deflection.
laurelseed's picture
jaydokie's picture
Sorry you feel that way swkyle. I respect your right to your opinion. However, I have a right to disagree. The Cherokees don't take someone's word that they have Cherokee blood. The Tribal Enrollment Ordinance requires certain documentation to be approved for membership. If you meet the criteria, you are eligible and thus enrolled. What kind of tribe would we if we refused membership to an eligible applicant. Does your tribe do that? As for allocation of funding based on the census, there is a formula that is fair to every group of ethnicity and income level. We didn't make the rules, we just live by them. Our Principal Chief has issued a statement of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma's stand on this issue. Basically, we assist those in the application process. We do not dispute anyone's ancestry or lineage as being Cherokee unless they apply for membership. Is that how your tribe does it? I don't see anyone disputing Johnny Depp's claim of ancestry and even the Comanche recently adopted him into their tribe as is the custom of many tribes. Do I care? No, it's their business. Ms. Warren has admitted that she should have addressed the issue quickly rather than let it be used against her campaign. True. Mr. Brown stated that he doesn't have documented evidence that she used her claimed ancestry for special treatment. Hmm, what is everybody arguing about? I guess, in closing, let us take care of our business, and everybody else take care of their business and walk proud! We could use help in the Freedmen Issue for those Freedmen who don't actually have Cherokee blood. But nobody is rushing in to help on that issue, and we will do just fine without it.
laurelseed's picture
You misread or misunderstand what satirization is. Satire uses humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticize. Scott Brown's staff parading around while acting like a negative Native American stereotype doesn't satirize Elizabeth Warren's claims. A proper simile can satirize, what I said is a proper satirization would be to equivocate Warren's claims to the authenticity of a FAKE headdress. The simile equivocates her claims to the FAKE headdresses' inauthenticity. A true headdress isn't maligned but the legitimacy of the false one is. One wouldn't need to wear or parody a headdress only depict the all too common fake one. A simile for this simile would be to counteract a claim that tin is gold by equivocating the tin's worth to that of iron pyrite, aka false gold. The gold's value isn't sullied, but the worth of the tin and iron pyrite is effectively denounced.
calliope's picture
There's nothing inconsistent about me pointing out the contradiction in appointing yourself an arbiter of writing quality without being more attentive about your own writing. I'm outlining the presumtuousness of the practice, not condoning it, so it's rather irrelevant whether or not I didn't hit the space bar in "babysteps." I think you yourself demonstrated a personal and visceral reaction with the rather disturbing tangents about Mr. DeLaune acting like royalty and imagining his face turning red with shame in old age. Op-eds by definition are commentary, as well, so I don't see the difference between commentary above the "Comments" section and commentary below it. If you're intent was to inspire the reaction "backing away slowly," you definitely succeeded in your take on previous pieces. There is a distinction between ignorant offensiveness and scary anti-Indian bigotry, just like there's one between someone saying, "oh, Indians are such an exotic minority," or asking if you grew up on a reservation versus someone saying, "Indians are all drunks," or expressing the sentiment that Indians should be exterminated, for example. The war whoops and tomahawk chops were offensive, but, no, they did not seem to originate in a hatred toward Natives. Asking what Scott Brown has done for Indians is misleading in a specific manner within the setting of this race because it sets up an implicit comparison with an ideal candidate who has done something for Indians. That's not the case because he's running against a woman who has done even less for Indians than he has, even when you adjust the consideration for the fact that she has no votes to judge. Sometimes an election is the lesser of two evils. In my opinion, Brown has acquitted himself of that for Indians who are in the middle or able to bring themselves to vote for a Republican. They've both offended people, but the only one who has even made a superficial attempt to take some sort of responsibility and address the issue is Brown. Warren hasn't even done that. Sure, I understand that some people simply can't pull the lever for a nominee with an "R" beside their name, which is why I said they should go Green.
patrickfreeland's picture
Whoa... a little wordy there, fella. It's like trying to swallow a pine cone. At least put some peanut butter on it!
1nightwalker's picture
Meanwhile the very basic of Indian people (very easily identified as such) who still live in the Indian communities in the out of the way places still suffer and do without. All this high profile (such as this blog) bickering is going on and supposedly on their behalf. Many, many people are so far out of touch with the realities of the goings on in the very real Indian communities. If any thing people....ask Creator to help US ALL.....
bobklahn's picture
""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." Your nasty little smear campaign is clearly in support of Scott Brown, unless you have some other way to profit from it. Scott Brown was talking about appearance. Only someone who had access to genealogical records could possibly know from such records, and that certainly is not the audience he was speaking to. He meant physical appearance. Yet you give his excuse as if he was so holy his word could not be doubted. "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." When did she claim that as proof of anything? She said that was something one of her relatives pointed out, and that led her to believe it, but that's not claiming it as proof. She could have been Asian or even Hungarian and had high cheekbones, but her Aunt never mentioned that. As to the overtures from Indian's at the convention, you have not shown any evidence that any such have occurred of that she received them. When I look in Indian Country Today Media Network what I find is nasty commentaries like yours, with very little truly balanced and fair material showing up on google. With that history, I don't see why she would bother with you.