Is Scott Brown Really An Android?

Acrylic on canvas by Mateo Romero @ the Peabody Essex Museum

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is a desperate bully.  He is.  Did you hear his opening statement in his first debate with senate challenger Elizabeth Warren?  Get this:  he accused her of lying about her racial background – said she had checked the box on job applications indicating she is Native American to gain a hiring advantage.  Then he looked at her and said in a sneering tone, “you can see that she’s not a Native American”.  Senator Brown all but admitted that he is an expert racial profiler.  He no doubt has some Hollywood stereotype in mind for what Native Americans are supposed to look like. His campaign staff doubled down on the insults recently by mocking Warren at a campaign rally with tomahawk chops and chants which were deeply offensive to the Cherokee Nation.  My question is this – what right does Scott Brown have to question her background like this anyway? He has no basis for doing so, except desperation, much like the radical birthers from the lunatic fringe. Next thing you know, Scott Brown will be demanding her birth certificate and DNA samples.

But here’s the thing, as Melissa Harris-Perry has pointed out and as many other scholars have as well, race is a social construction, not a a biological one.  All people look the same under a microscope.  We all bleed red and cry salty tears.   So what does race have to do with anything?  Is it bad to be a Native American, or to be granted some preferential treatment to redress past atrocities committed against Native Americans or to ensure that one who is qualified is granted an opportunity and not discriminated against?  In Warren’s case, whether or not she benefited is not the point.  The point is that she knows her family history better than anyone else, and certainly better than Scott Brown.  I believe she is of Native American heritage.  She did grow up in Oklahoma, home to one of the largest populations of Native Americans in the country.

And let’s flip this.  Who is Scott Brown?  What is his heritage, and how do I know that what he says about himself is true?  Are we just to take his word?  What box did he check in school?  He may or may not be of Anglo Saxon descent.  How can I be certain that he is even human – he could be an android for all I know!  I mean it is somewhat suspect for a man of means to drive an old pickup truck that costs $70 to fill up.

As Rachel Maddow mentioned, it is astonishing and disturbing that an issue would be made of race in a U.S. senatorial race, in the year 2012.  It’s 2012, not 1956, the year before Native Americans were finally able to vote in all states.

Here’s the last thing, Elizabeth Warren is brilliant.  Scott Brown knows that and he really didn’t want to debate her.   He even tried to skip out on the debate but was called back after Harry Reid cancelled a senate session that Brown was going to attend.  In addition to his affirmative action bashing and his personal attack on Warren’s family history, he resorted to that anti-intellectual appeal that GOP supporters and the dull among us find so attractive, calling her professor, as if the title were something to be ashamed of.  In my humble opinion, the title professor actually scares him, he fears it – professors intimidate him.   Here’s what I wish Warren had done:  responded to him in Cherokee.  That would have silenced Mr. Brown, oh and it would have been so sweet.  Instead, Warren took the high road and not the bait and won the debate decisively.

Elizabeth Warren Part Cherokee

U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and Harvard Professor who grew up in Oklahoma, is part Cherokee.  Her great, great, great grandmother was Cherokee, making Warren 1/32 Cherokee.  She has taken some heat for listing herself as part Cherokee and there is some speculation that her “minority” status helped her gain teaching positions, that she has been the beneficiary of affirmative action programs.  I say good for her.  Diversity is a good thing.  All students who attend colleges and universities with a diverse student population benefit.  And is not true that kids from underrepresented ethnic or racial groups could not get in otherwise.  In fact, many of the kids might have gotten in if their race were not known on merit alone.  In some cases, without affirmative action, they might be passed over, even though they meet all the qualifications.

But diversity should be about more than just skin color, which is superficial – we all look the same under a microscope.  I think college and universities need to expand their notion of diversity to include ideological and class diversity.  Diversity of thought is important.  Ever read those college guides that depict a school as a leftist haven, or a squeaky clean young republican resort?  And there’s the school where everybody smokes and the one where everyone drives a SUV with a ski rack and looks straight out of a designer catalog.  And the one where all the students hold hands and pray before lunch.  Let’s not forget the Birkenstock wearing atheists at the school with no degree requirements.  These of
course are caricatures and don’t necessarily reflect the reality at these schools, but perception is important and it’s partly true, especially of smaller liberal arts schools, that the student body is alarmingly homogenous on a number of diversity measures.  A kid from a working class background might not even consider the “preppy” school even though it may be a good academic fit.  The point is, without diversity, students have a very limiting and narrow experience and will not learn how to interact, work and live with people who are not like them, which I argue has led to partisan gridlock in the U.S.

Elizabeth Warren, a former Oklahoma high school debate champion and noted scholar has brought some ideological diversity to Harvard Law School and draws from her distant roots as a Cherokee and her middle class upbringing.  And that’s good for Harvard, good for the state of Massachusetts and the country.