By Gyasi Ross
Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts.
Hold that thought, please—indulge me for a few minutes while we talk about discrimination, outrage and offensive behavior.
See, subjective tests for racial/gender outrage are ineffective—everybody feels offended at something that other people simply will not feel. It is impossible, or at the very least it is sloppy, to pull an offended person’s heart out of their chest and place it in the chest cavity of an outraged person.
It’s just not their cause, their battle, their issue. Fair enough.
Still, there is an objective test for when people of conscious should morally link arms and say, “We will not let this pass”: that test is the “What if it Were Me?” test. Put simply, the test says that when a person (or a group of people) would feel outraged if they were the subject of the alleged offensive behavior, then they likewise have a moral obligation to say/do something about it.*
That means, yes, straight Mexican men should get involved in the uproar over opposition to granting basic civil rights to gays and lesbians; indeed, Arizona’s disgusting and racist SB 1070 possesses exactly the same spirit as mean-spirited efforts to defeat same sex marriage bill across the Nation. That also means that, yes, poor white men, women, boys and girls should be up-in-arms over the stop-and-frisk laws that have disproportionately put poor blacks and Hispanics behind bars; poverty is a civil rights issue and prevents all colors from having the same opportunities—employment, education, and otherwise—as our more economically secure counterparts.
We should all be angry when we see these egregious violations. If it were us being detained in Arizona, we would scream to the high heavens. If it were us being prevented from marrying, we would be throwing rocks at state capitol buildings. If it were us that were ignored by civil rights organizations, as poor white people are, we’d rightfully feel like they weren’t doing their jobs.
We have a very obvious situation in front of us that, if it were you, African Americans would be having press conferences, Jewish Americans would be protesting, Hispanic Americans would be boycotting. Good. But let’s see if we can apply that outrage to other peoples’ struggle as well.
Senator Scott Brown’s campaign recently gave people in the United States an opportunity to utilize the What If It Were Me Test. See, Brown has made a habit of questioning Elizabeth Warren’s Native American ancestry. Good—she is a white lady that may or may not have benefitted from pretending to be Native; she has not reciprocated anything to Native people and has serious questions to answer about her relationship with Indian Country. But, the Scott Brown campaign decided to go a bit further than simply “questioning” her authenticity as a Native American. No, that wasn’t enough; instead, at a recent campaign rally, the campaign worked the crowd into a frenzy to the point where they were mocking and ridiculing the stereotypical Native “war cries” and “tomahawk chops.” Now, Brown said that he doesn’t “condone” the behavior, but in the same breath said that ”The real offense is that [Warren] said she was white and then checked the box saying she is Native American…”
No, the real offense is Brown excusing racism and attempting to deflect from the hate speech being conducted at his rally. The behavior there was bigoted, and his attempts to excuse it are likewise bigoted.
Disgusting. Don’t believe me?
Now obviously, this isn’t real Native American behavior—it’s the evil fantasy of what a bunch of racist white men think Native American behavior looks like. That doesn’t make it any better—imagine if they were slanting their eyes and acting like they were doing karate in mocking gestures of stereotypical Asian gestures. What would the reaction be then? Or alternatively, if they were in blackface and shuffling their feet in mocking gestures of unpleasant and racist African American imagery?
There would be hell to pay. There should be hell to pay now. Objectively.
We need to hold Warren’s feet to the fire and see what her relationship will be with Indian Country; hopefully she will be an ally. Safe to say, however, that she owes us some answers. Still, I would much rather roll the dice with Ms. Warren than with a man that excuses racist behavior within his campaign—he’s obviously not a friend to Native people, and you can probably safely assume that is not much of a friend to any vulnerable people. Remember: if it were you or your group, you would take action. Take action now—please give to Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign and let’s get this bigot out of office.
* DISCLAIMER: By the way, you straight, gainfully employed white men simply do not get a say in the “What If It Were Me” test (unless, of course, it is sympathetic to the person who is the subject of the discrimination). Your opinion does not count when it comes to what is objectively offensive—it just doesn’t. See, there seems to be a strange retributive bug going on in many straight and economically capable white men that prevents you from possessing any capability to step into the shoes of a person that has felt meaningful discrimination, e.g. when that discrimination affected the discriminated person’s health, wealth, opportunities or pursuit of happiness. Instead, many of you now feel strangely threatened that the instances of offensive behavior are being examined and questioned instead of simply accepted, as has been the case for literally hundreds of years. Many of your offense-o-meters is just awry.
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways) which you can get at DKMAI.com. He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in 2012 appropriately called The Thing About Skins, and the website and publishing company for that handy-dandy book is CutBankCreekPress.com (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at twitter.com/BigIndianGyasi and writes for a column called “The Thing About Skins” in Indian Country Today Media Network.