What if Elizabeth Warren’s mother was part black or Asian or Mexican instead of Native American?
What if, instead of tomahawk chops and “F-Troop”-style war whoops, Sen. Scott Brown’s staffers had donned blackface and strummed “Someone’s in the Kitchen With Dinah” on the banjo as a way to deride her declaration of heritage?
What if Brown’s Deputy Chief of Staff Greg Casey, his Constituent Service Counsel Jack Richard and his regional representative Brad Garnett had stretched the corners of their eyes with their fingers and wore “coolie” hats?
What if they had sported sombreros and chanted “Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale!” like Speedy Gonzalez?
What if this behavior was enabled, if not encouraged, by the Senator’s repeated charge that his opponent is falsely claiming to be “a person of color” when “clearly, she’s not”?
And what if his only response to this behavior by his own employees and campaign staff was a vague promise to “tell them not to do it again”?
Would our response to such conduct be different? Of course it would, but it shouldn’t be. The behavior of Brown’s staff, captured on cringe-inducing video, is deeply ignorant and the unsurprising result of Brown’s own deeply ignorant, race-baiting comments.
What they did — and his indulgent response to it — falls well beneath the dignity of his office and reveals a blithe willingness to insult an entire race of people in order to mock just one person. Those Native Americans who initially accepted his accusations as well-intended and sincere must now watch in sadness and anger as his staff mimics ceremonial chants and the despised “tomahawk chop.”
My maternal grandmother, who died when I was very young, was a beautiful full Cherokee Native American. As far as my family knows, she is not listed in any official registry as such. As a child, she was adopted, raised and educated by a white family. That makes me one-quarter Native American.
I am also black American and Cape Verdean American. Because of her contribution to my heritage, I personify the histories and experiences of those who are native to this country, those who were enslaved and forced to come here and those who came here seeking a better life.
Like so many, I am shaped by the impact my grandmother’s race had on her adopted family and the black American family into which she married.
I don’t look Cherokee. But I am just as proud of that as I am of every other part of my race and ethnicity. I’ve == “checked the box” on census forms, school applications and other questionnaires precisely as a point of pride that could, in my lifetime, if not my grandmother’s, be freely expressed.
Care to debate that, Senator?
Andrea J. Cabral is the Sheriff of Suffolk County.