The Senate race in Massachusetts has, no pun intended, taken a turn towards race! A debate between Senator Scott Brown (R) and Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren (D) last Thursday evening, quickly got personal.
First, some context. This last April, the Boston Herald reported that Harvard law directories published between 1986-1999 list Elizabeth Warren as Native American. Undoubtedly, Brown’s campaign ran with the story, claiming that, “Warren has zero evidence that she is at all Native American,” and called for the Democratic candidate to produce personal evidence to such effect. Failure to do so, per the campaign, shows moral hazard and “creates questions about her integrity and willingness to be transparent.” Warren has stated personally that her Native American ancestry had nothing to do with her hiring and was left virtually unknown by friends and colleagues until later in her career. In fact, the former Solicitor General Charles Fried, who served on the review board responsible for hiring at Harvard, states that Warren’s appointment was based solely on merit. Warren’s ancestral claims are the product of familial lore; she says to have learned about her background by the stories of her grandparent’s marriage.
Given the evidence indicating that Warren’s ancestry was removed from her advancement as both a student and scholar, what on Earth would have prompted Senator Brown to say-on national television- that his opponent is “clearly not” Native American during their debate on September 20th? Did I miss a campaign memo or something? Is Scott Brown now the Republican Party’s racial compass?
Being a multiracial individual myself; my mother is of Mexican, Lebanese, and Norwegian decent, and my father is Cuban-Polish, I took serious issue with Senator Brown’s comments. To be clear, I am Hispanic. My family is from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico; Hermosillo and Guadalajara, Mexico. Furthermore, I have white skin, my hair is blond, my eyes are green, and I’m a native Spanish speaker and hold my Mexican culture near and dear to my heart. But, above everything else, I am an American citizen, just like Senator Brown. The Senator has no given right to say that Professor Warren is “clearly not” Native American nor question the legitimacy of her identification when he has no idea who she is or where she comes from. Notwithstanding my personal distain for the Senator’s character given his egregious remarks, is his commitment to Warren’s ancestry providing a political advantage?
As Rachel Maddow reported recently, a Suffolk University poll taken “in the heat of the controversy” on May 23, 2012 found that “69% of likely voters said that Warren’s Native-American heritage listing is not a significant story” (a link to the official publication can be found, here). So, why does Brown bother? Does he think that by revisiting Warren’s race he’s going to recover what appears to be a spike in Warren’s favorability poll-wise?
Being quick to point out Warren’s “character flaws” as it relates to her racial identification perhaps indicates that the Brown campaign is quickly running out of ideas…
Joshua D. Wodka