Republican Sen. Scott Brown faced off against his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, in the third debate last night in Massachusetts. Their race for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts is very close. While much of the race has focused on the local economy, the Warren campaign has been sidetracked by criticisms from her opponent over her claims of Native American ancestry.
The controversy first surfaced
following the candidates' initial debate, when ads were released questioning Warren's heritage in the spring. Warren, who is white, was accused of using this background to classify herself as a minority. In response, Warren said she has never received preferential treatment and remains proud of her heritage.
This got Phillip Martin, senior reporter for WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, thinking about some deeper questions about ethnicity and racial identity and how they factor into our political leanings. He urges us to look backwards, to see how race has played a role in American history, and how that has changed.
"Well into the 20th century, there was a question over who was white — Irish, Italians, Greeks — some of these groups had to actually petition to be white." Martin says. "Though race has always been a social construct, how race and ethnicity is determined now depends on, quite often, the role of technology."
Phillip Martin had the opportunity to look into his own past too, with the help of Henry Louis Gates Jr., who helps people trace their roots on his PBS program.
The exercise puts the controversy between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren into perspective. As Martin says, "[Sen. Brown] said 'you don't look like a Native American.' Well, I spoke to Native Americans, and they said there's no such thing." Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes the point that hardly any of us are purely anything. As Martin puts it, "We are a sum of many things."
Correction: We initially wrote that the controversy over Warren's ancestry originated following the first debate. It actually originated in the spring.