Confused by Your Ethnic Identity? Scott Brown Will Clear it up for You!
“I think character is important. … Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she’s not.”
It took me a while to process this. As a sitting Senator, Scott Brown should know better. The statement, however, should be taken as a desperate attempt to hang on to a contested seat. If Brown were a shoe in for reelection, he wouldn’t need to sink so low. Certainly, he scored points with right wingers all over America.
Determining an individual’s ethnic and genetic heritage should be up to Scott Brown or any other goverment official. Unfortunately, for the past several hundred years, Native Americans have had their identity shaped and constrained by men just like Scott Brown.
Big government at work, indeed.
There are currently 565 federally recognized tribal entities in the United States, each one of them legally recognized through criteria set by the United States Federal Government itself. While many people of Native American descent are able to claim some level of tribal identity through community membership and specific rules set by the tribes themselves, most rely on written records going back to the 19th century.
Many, if not most, people of Native descent lack these official records. Native Americans were largely displace and marginalized. Thus, many people lack official records proving that their long dead ancestors were indeed Native Americans. Moreover, many Native folks assimilated and mixed in, just as many Americans have. The result, even among those that hold tribal affiliation, is that many Native Americans look very different from how Mr. Brown might picture one to look.
I don’t think that Senator Brown really gets how deep his words cut. As someone of unverifiable native descent myself (outside of DNA testing, or a visual inspection of my teeth), I found his slight comment incredibly offensive. No one would ever argue against his Anglo-ness, yet to claim native ancestry without a government issued document is met with suspicion. This is a sad state of affairs. America once used to kill Native Americans, now, as Mr. Brown pointed out, we work to rub them out by denying that they exist.
About Pete LarsonAssistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine
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