The Femo: Can we move on, Scott Brown?

Elizabeth Warren

by Ashleigh McEvoy

On Tuesday, a video surfaced of Senator Scott Brown’s campaign staffers mimicking Native American “war whoops” and “tomahawk chops” at an Elizabeth Warren rally. The high-ranking staff members featured in the video included Brown’s Deputy Chief of Staff Greg Casey, his Constituent Service Counsel Jack Richard, State Director Jerry McDermott, GOP operative Brad Garrett, and special assistant Jennifer Franks.

When questioned about the incident, Senator Brown responded, “Certainly that’s not something I condone. It’s certainly something that if I am aware of it, I’ll tell that member to never do it again.” He did not offer an apology, however, saying instead, “The apologies that need to be made and the offensiveness here is the fact that Professor Warren took advantage of a claim, to be somebody, a Native American, and used that for an advantage, a tactical advantage.”

By this, Brown is referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding Warren’s Native American ancestry. Warren listed herself as Native American – a heritage she bases on family stories and what her parents had told her as a child – in a national law directory. Though Senator Brown has asserted time and time again that Warren invented this heritage to benefit from affirmative action, Warren has repeatedly stated that her Native American background played no role in the hiring processes at the institutions at which she has taught. Charles Fried, who sat on the committee that reviewed Warren for her Harvard Law School position, has confirmed this. Fried is a conservative and served as Solicitor General under Ronald Reagan. Senator Brown also launched an advertisement this week that centers on the controversy; titled “Who Knows?” it calls into question Warren’s integrity.

What this controversy boils down to is racial insensitivity; the racism of Brown’s campaign is laid bare in the footage of the “war whoops” and “tomahawk chops.” Brown, during their first debate, pointed to Warren and declared, “Professor Warren claimed that she’s a Native American and a person of color, and as you can see, she’s not.” Are we really going back to the days when race could supposedly be scientifically proven? The days when we tried to label a person as being 1/16th black, white, or what have you? Is Senator Brown really so ignorant as to believe that someone can only be Native American if she looks the part? That she has to have long black hair and dress in appropriate garb to be a real Native American? The truth is, family lineage is complex; it’s nearly impossible to trace relations far back in history and to ascertain exact heritage. If Elizabeth Warren grew up in a family that emphasized Native American descent, then that’s her background and that’s a part of her identity. She is entitled to list that in a directory if she so chooses. She and her employers have made it clear that her ancestry was not a key factor in hiring her – I imagine that her intelligence was a more important factor to institutions like Harvard and University of Pennsylvania – and therefore I cannot imagine what else there is to say about it. If we want to have a discussion about character, I suggest we address the racism of Brown’s own campaign staff and his failure to apologize.

Can we move on now? Can we talk about the issues? Senator Scott Brown, is your campaign so floundering that this is where you must focus your energy?

photo of Elizabeth Warren by the United States Treasury Department: http://www.flickr.com/photos/47923257@N08/4473832074