How Race Factors Into Our Political Leanings

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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.

Guests:

Philip Martin

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Elizabeth Ross

Comments [1]

Charles

LOL! The Takeaway wouldn't know when the controversy arose over Elizabeth Warren's dubious claim of what we now understand to be 1/32 Cherokee and/or Delaware "heritage", because for weeks, neither The Takeaway nor NPR gave the story any significant attention.

Note too this phrase: "...the Warren campaign has been sidetracked by criticisms from her opponent over her claims of Native American ancestry."

In point of fact, the Warren campaign was first questioned on the story by the conservative media. I am forced to delineate "conservative media" because the liberal media -- public radio, broadcast television news, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, etc. -- all ignored the story. But for conservative media, the story might never have gained a foothold in public discourse. In any event, the Scott Brown campaign was slow to advance the issue. Although phrasing it as The Takeaway has in this instance serves to personalize it as to Senator Brown, and there is nothing like attributing something to a "campaign" to make listeners discount it as mere electoral puffery that is inherently dubious.

As always, there is a massive difference in the treatment by the pro-Democrat mainstream media, which turned the request for Mitt Romney's tax records into a national quest, versus the inquiry about Elizabeth Warren's Harvard Law School personnel file, which was systematically ignored.

One might think; "Well, it's just a Senate race. It's a Massachusetts issue, really. Why would the national press get excited over one state's U.S. senate race?" There is a four-word response to that theory; Todd Akin in Missouri.

We all know how public radio would have been treating a claim of "1/32 Cherokee heritage" if the claimant had been a Republican. The treatment would have been vastly different. By now, the term, and the Republican, would be a well-worn punch line. The story would have been detailed ad nauseum. It is a double standard. Again, search Todd Akin/rape and Elizabeth Warren/Cherokee on any of the leading mainstream media home pages to make an empirical count of the differences. At NPR.org, it is an order of magnitude different.

Oct. 11 2012 09:37 AM

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