Scott Brown challenged the claim that Elizabeth Warren is part Cherokee, during last night’s Boston debate for a closely watched race for a key Massachusetts Senate seat. “As you know … Professor Warren has claimed she is a Native American, a person of color. As you can see, she is not,” Brown said in their first of four TV debates before the November 6 election. Meaning what? She isn’t dark enough to have Native ancestors? This whole line of questioning had me so insulted. Funny, he didn’t look like a hateful person, but Scott Brown sure sounded like one last night, by saying something so idiotic and childish. Pretty sure isn’t everything, is it?
Warren responded simply, that she was told as a child that her mother had Native American ancestry: “When I was growing up, these are the stories I knew about my heritage, I never asked anybody for any documentation. I don’t know any kid who did.” She is not uncommon in her assertion. Most of us only have oral histories from older family members to rely on, mostly because our families have more than a few generations separating them from an immigrant ancestor.
Many, many Americans can count a connection to Cherokee and other Native American tribes in their ancestry, and they don’t have documents proving blood quantum, or copies of the rolls created when entire tribes were pushed further west many times throughout our nation’s turbulent history. Paperwork gets lost in traumatic times, full of suffering, like when the federal government displaces your family, or during great depressions when the entire population was in flux, looking for work. Many Natives who did not leave the east coast were absorbed into “white” communities through marriage. You don’t always see what you get, a family history does not always write itself in your appearance. We are a nation of mixed ancestry, racial makeup and identity, but mixed ancestry was not always a point of pride, mixed Americans often tried to pass as European for social and economic reasons. I find the fact that people kept the information of Native connections alive in family lore, very remarkable at all.
I know this from the very story of my family. My father’s parents both products are of mixed Cherokee and European marriages. But, they were very quiet about it. All we have is the hushed stories passed down in our family, stories which we have also communicated to our children, as best we can. Take a look at some pictures of my family past.
My paternal grandparents Ellen and Harry, for example, do they “look” like Native Americans? Does their skin-tone look right, are they red enough? Do we need a certain purity of blood, to claim kinship publicly with our own ancestors, Scott Brown?
Photographed in 1978, look at myself, my brother, sisters, and one cousin, born to the children of two mixed race Native Americans, and tell us which one of us has the right to claim to be Cherokee. Who would have passed the Brown test visually, I wonder.
Can Scott Brown tell by looking? Does he have some supernatural ability that allows him to detect DNA, and hence decipher racial makeup just by mere sight? No, of course he cannot determine that. Ask yourselves, why would he question an opponent’s racial identity, in such a offensive manner, rather than focus on issues that matter to Massachusetts, like jobs, fair taxes and health care. We are to accept that dog-whistle comment was about college scholarships from decades ago, really? I do not buy that as valid reason to dispute someone’s family heritage in a public debate. I found that portion of his debate performance offensive, indecent, disrespectful, and I don’t believe Warren should let it slide. She needs to win that seat, because Massachusetts deserves better representation than Scott Brown.