In a debate with challenger Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has declared that she is “clearly” not Native American – even though, on occasion, she has claimed to be of Cherokee extraction. Interestingly, nobody asked the good senator whether he thought Professor Warren was red, white, black, brown, or just off-white. He didn’t need to be asked. Just look at her, he implies. She’s simply too “white” to be “red.”
Brown has been sinking like a rock in the most recent polls. Prior to Willard Mitt Romney’s "47 percent" implosion, Brown had a relatively comfortable lead over Warren. But free-falling poll numbers have strange and mysterious effects on political egos. Again, before Romney declared on that secret video that he “would have had a better shot” at winning the election had he been born Mexican, no one had ever publicly accused Brown of racism – white, red, or otherwise. He’d never given anyone reason to believe he might be a closet Ku Kluxer.
“Clearly she is not” a Native American, according to Brown, who must consider himself an ultimate arbiter of “racial” identity here in the polyglot known as the United States of America. White people, white men in particular, have been addressing, adjudicating, giving definition, borders and boundaries to the meaning of whiteness, of blackness, of browness, of yellowness – of otherness – since they first set foot on these shores some 500-plus years ago.
So Brown’s unsolicited advice and declaration are nothing new. What’s new is that he would stoop to, once again, and delve into the never-out-of-date Republican Party racial playbook, but this time with a twist. It’s not blacks or browns singled out as “special” or “different,” you see. It’s the original – the real – Americans who must be addressed once more.
Brown’s own high-ranking staffers certainly got the message. Five of them subsequently interrupted a rally for Warren with hand chopping gestures and war whoops that were once staged by characters in old black and white “Western” movies. The head of the Cherokee Nation called them and their actions "downright racist."
Brown's response? A statement on Wednesday “regretting” the “unacceptable” behavior.
No apology here, right? And now, Brown has actually doubled down on the red racist tip. He’s offered a television ad which leaves no doubt about his position on Warren, race, racism, red people, etc.
Jacqueline Pata is executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. She noted that Native Americans (the first Americans) are “the last Americans to secure our rightful place at the ballot box.” She worries over whether those Indians who show up at the ballot box will have the proper tribal identification cards, since 20,000 years of residence in-country does not matter to folk like Brown and his Tea Party cohorts.
Finally, Brown’s injection of race into this race is as obvious, blatant, and mean-spirited as anything I’ve seen come out of Mississippi or Louisiana over the last 50 years. He is telling the “low information” white voter in Massachusetts that Warren has not only used the dreaded “affirmative action” card to get into Harvard and other plum normally white-reserved stations in life. But she has used it “illegally” because she really is not red, she’s white. Just look at her.
He is playing on and even stoking white racial resentment at affirmative action, and at the gall of some white women to even challenge such an accomplished man as Brown.
Fortunately, for Massachusetts and America, it’s not working. Should she win….when Warren wins, America will have turned another corner toward real justice.
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