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The Racist Assault on Elizabeth Warren

The Racist Assault on Elizabeth Warren

Many Native Americans are angry at the GOP assault on Elizabeth Warren for, Republicans claim, misusing her ancestry to advance her career.

Last month, the Boston Herald reported that Harvard Law School had listed Warren, the presumed Democratic candidate for Senator in Massachusetts, as a minority professor to deflect criticism that it lacked diverse faculty. Sitting Senator Scott Brown’s campaign and right-wing media have not let up, even though it has since been reported that Warren definitely is one 32nd Cherokee.

Warren told reporters on May 2 that she listed herself as a minority in Harvard’s directory in order to connect with others like her, “people for whom ‘Native American’ is part of their heritage and part of their hearts. There aren’t a lot of people like me in law teaching. And so I just thought I might find some others. That’s evidently not a particularly good use for the directory because it never happened.” That’s why, she says, that she stopped calling herself a minority in the directories after having done so for almost a decade.

Warren says she was qualified for her position, and the Native aspect didn’t play a role in her hiring, which has been backed up by the Harvard officials who hired her.

But people like conservative blogger and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin have not let up, calling Warren names like “Pinocchio-hontas,” “Chief Full-of-Lies,” “Running Joke” and “Sacaja-whiner.”

Donna Akers, a professor with the Department of History and Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told Indian Country Today that she is skeptical of the conservative outrage:

“I think this is simply a cynical ploy by right-wing propagandists trying to find a piece of mud that sticks against Warren,” she says. Akers believes Republican politicians sometimes use racial issues to divide voters and to play on their insecurities. In this case, she says that the Brown campaign is trying to make it seem like a white person may have lost out on a position due to Warren’s situation.

“Smearing Warren by the suggestion that she benefited unfairly by claiming Native ancestry panders to the racism extant in many sectors of the right wing—especially the working class,” Akers says. “The Republican Party today solidly embraces a thinly veiled racist agenda that privileges white Americans at the expense of Native Americans and other peoples of color in the United States.”

“The mainstream media definitely has added to this controversy due to their well-known ignorance about tribal citizenship and other tribal issues,” says Julia Good Fox, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University. Good Fox notes that the media has largely failed to explain tribal citizenry and blood quantum issues to give context to the situation because these aren’t easy stories to tell. It’s easier to label the case ‘convoluted,’ blame Warren, and move on to the next political gotcha story.

“Unfortunately, for the most part, their coverage is just adding to the confusion and threatens to feed racism or anti-Indianism,” Good Fox says. To do better, she says the media should start by noting that tribal nations have a right to determine who their citizens are, rather than focusing on the misunderstood notion that tribal citizens can only be determined by U.S.-imposed mathematical fractions.

Writing for Politico, Sarah Burris, an Oklahoman like Warren, points out that the current chief of the Cherokee Tribe also is 1/32 Cherokee.

“Conservative commentators scoffed all last week at what they assert is Warren’s low percentage of native ancestry. Their problem — like most people who didn’t grow up in a place like Oklahoma — is they have no real frame of reference for how much blood is removed with each generation,” writes Burris.

“These commentators ignore a history tracing back to a mixed heritage, like Warren’s, that is the epitome of the American story. Seems like a double standard.”

But Warren has not escaped criticism. Says Good Fox:

“If they want, Warren and her team could take control of this controversy. Right now, it looks like they are unclear about tribal issues, including the difference between tribal citizenship and simple ancestry.”

“This is playing into her opponents hands, including those who are anti-American Indian.”

“Apparently, she has no conception of Native identity as a function of community upbringing, not ‘blood,’ and that is a problem brought about by U.S. colonialism, one which has been adopted by many tribes under their own schema for calculating individual eligibility for citizenship,” adds Akers, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. “It brings up the whole can of worms of Indian identity.”

Good Fox says Warren could help herself and her campaign by initiating a meaningful dialogue with the Cherokee Nation.

Harvard is also being criticized. Indian Country Today says that it has been known to be insensitive on Native issues.

Indian scholars have long complained that the institution has failed to hire a permanent scholar to fill the Harvard Law School’s Oneida chair, which has received substantial financial support from the Oneida Indian Nation of New York (which also funds ICTMN). The position was created in 2003, with the understanding that Harvard would hire a full-time, tenured faculty member dedicated to Indian law. Visiting professors – some of them non-Native – have instead filled the position. That practice, some claim, has denied the tribal law program the chance to grow under steady guidance.

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53 comments

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1:59AM PST on Jan 21, 2013

Seems like a little teasing did no one harm.


6:29AM PDT on May 22, 2012

For God's sake, she never made that claim in the race and it was Harvard that did so. She went along with it for reasons of helping the school and students, not for personal gain as nearly all Republicans do.

And anyone wants to call her a liar should also call Romney a liar since every single thing he has said about Democrats has been a lie. Call out his etch-a-sketch moments which run 24/7. The man is actually more dishonest than Gingrich or Perry and that says everything you need to know about his character.

While I'm on the subject, why isn't he in prison for voter fraud, voting in Massachusetts while actually living in California?

8:03AM PDT on May 15, 2012

This article states it is a FACT that Warren is 1/32nd Cherokee. That is a LIE. The retraction was buried in the Boston Globe, but there is NO EVIDENCE to support the new claim that Warren is part Cherokee. I have more Native American than Warren and would NEVER use that fact for preferential treatment. The racist is Warren, not those who have exposed this fraud. She kept a REAL Native American from getting a position on Harvard Staff. That is unconscionable.

7:07PM PDT on May 11, 2012

Since when do conservatives care about the feelings and quality of life of First Nations? They want to cut Native American women out of VAWA! And then Michelle Malkin's comments are truly racist, bastardizing the names of prevalent historic First Nations people. This is what people do when they have nothing else to say against their opponents. They let their racist freak flag fly.

9:50PM PDT on May 10, 2012

Brown smells like excrement. Massachusetts. must vote for Elizabeth Warren to save the state from the likes of a used teabagger, Scott Brown.

2:59AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Politicians will say and do anything to get our vote. We give their opinions too much credence, it makes them feel important and also unresponsive because it elevates them above us, creating an 'us and them' climate. With them as our rulers and we as their subjects and servants, instead of the other way round! If it wasn't advantageous to her she would not have said it, if it was detrimental to her she would have covered it up. She is a politician! Watch them smirk, watch them evade straight questions, they are all liars and thieves at best, and genocidal warmongers on a average day.  I can't wait for the day when computers take politicians jobs like in other inefficient industries. "Policies! not Politicians!"

11:56PM PDT on May 8, 2012

If voters want a woman of SUBSTANCE, they will vote for Elizabeth Warren. If they want to see all their hard-earned money to to the wealthiest in the country, instead of help fellow people in MA, then they'll vote for Mr. Brown Nose.

10:29PM PDT on May 8, 2012

Continuation . . .

All political parties need to get away from the name calling, the deceit, the lies, and concentrate on the issues that are important to people and articulate possible solutions. And as citizens, Americans need to listen, suggest ideas and hold their representatives feet to the fire.

10:23PM PDT on May 8, 2012

From the article --- I think this is simply a cynical ploy by right-wing propagandists trying to find a piece of mud that sticks against Warren,” she says. Akers believes Republican politicians sometimes use racial issues to divide voters and to play on their insecurities. In this case, she says that the Brown campaign is trying to make it seem like a white person may have lost out on a position due to Warren’s situation.

“Smearing Warren by the suggestion that she benefited unfairly by claiming Native ancestry panders to the racism extant in many sectors of the right wing—especially the working class,” Akers says. “The Republican Party today solidly embraces a thinly veiled racist agenda that privileges white Americans at the expense of Native Americans and other peoples of color in the United States.”

It's not a cynical ploy --- it IS the way the Republican/Teabaggers operate --- SOP!

Use racial slurs etc to divide voters etc --- Rmoney is guilty of that, trying to turn one minority against another to weaken Mr Obama's following among minorities.

"...solidly embraces a thinly veiled racist agenda..." --- it isn't thinly veiled at all. Their racist agenda is out there, as big as all outdoors. Anyone who can't see it is either blind, willfully ignorant, or a racist! After all, how do you account for some of their actions around voter registration? How do you account for the NSM being embraced into the fold?

All political p

8:10PM PDT on May 8, 2012

the old southern strategy in full use in mass. of all places. some white dude in boston is without a job because warren claimed 1/3 cherokee blood.

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