A racy Senate campaign

By Kristin LaFratta


Cherokee Liz. Two words alone that a year ago may have meant nothing, now spark rather opposing reactions: laughter, or heated defense.

Digging up the old, receded, most likely irrelevant dirt on one’s political opponent is the norm. Since May of the past year, incumbent Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and his campaign team have targeted challenger Elizabeth Warren on “checking the box” – an exaggeration of the professor’s claim to being part Cherokee when applying to teach at law schools.

According to Warren, her parents told her as a child that she was part-Cherokee and Delaware Indian. A Washington Post article entitled “Everything you need to know about Warren’s claim of Native American heritage” does just what its title implies. It states that the New England genealogical society stated – after erroneously proclaiming the opposite – that it has “found no proof of Warren’s self-proclaimed Native American lineage.”

Warren checked herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Faculty before landing teaching jobs at prestigious institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law Schools. Though she said she “checked the box” to meet other faculty members of Cherokee descent and did not act in pursuit of developing her professional career, the claim is very questionable. Such controversy has served as a hotbed for Brown’s campaign team.

Whether by karma or through plain ignorance, the Cherokee issue has very recently turned against Brown.

Two weeks ago on Saturday, Sept. 22, Brown’s campaign staff members were caught poking fun at Warren by shouting “war whoops” and miming “tomahawk chops”   – the kind of fun Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker does not find so funny.

Instead, he sees them as “offensive and downright racist.”

These are the kind of stigmatizing adjectives politicians generally try to avoid being associated with.

When asked about the topic, Brown said the actions of his staff are not something he condones. But despite Chief Baker’s request, the senator did not apologize. He instead went on to attack Warren and her supposedly fabricated Native American heritage. Again.

So who is the real racist in the Senate race?

The first entry for “racism” at Dictionary.com defines it as “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement.”

Such a denotation could support the argument that Warren is racist.  If Warren checked off the box saying she was Native American in hopes to advance her career, she most definitely possesses the belief that a certain “race” could determine “individual achievement.”

Even further, this definition may argue our entire society that strongly encourages diversity, but values personal merit is also, ironically enough, racist.

American society loves to keep our melting pot strong; institutions and corporations love to flash figures of diversity in their student body or workers. Yet, by the definition mentioned earlier, racism is noted as the belief that differences in race determine some kind of achievement.

By picking one employee over another to improve a diversity statistic, do we not support this idea? The idea of affirmative action establishing reverse racism has been a debate for years. Perhaps the “achievement” in the definition of racism differs from that of institutions with goals of increasing diversity in their environment, but both fit the bill in a way.

However, let us not forget another very significant denotation Dictionary.com offers for racism, a third definition that defines it as “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”

Brown’s campaign staffers’ offensive mockery of Native Americans is a rather explicit representation of this view of racism. The incumbent and his organization have lost the respect of many through these childish acts and the Senator’s failure to apologize on their behalf.

When the principal chief of Cherokee Nation asks you to “apologize for the offensive actions of (your) staff and their uneducated, unenlightened and racist portrayal of native peoples,” it is likely in a politician’s best interest to do so.

The Massachusetts Senate race has become a bit of a debacle since the controversy surrounding “Cherokee Liz” surfaced many months ago. When talking to many fellow students or even adults about the election, it is this point that gets discussed over and over again.

The sad truth is that when many Massachusetts citizens cast their votes, it will likely be this detail that will decide for whom they vote.

If both candidates for Massachusetts Senator can be considered racist to some extent, it may be fitting for the electorate to look past this incident and cast their vote based on the politicians’ stances on actual political issues.

What a novel idea.

Remember when you step up to vote – if Warren has taught us one thing, it would be to think before checking off the box.

Kristin Lafratta is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]