I have been thinking about running for public office. After all, wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to demonstrate not just in words, but through action, how much I value the democratic process in this country that welcomed my grandparents?
On the other hand, campaigning can be rough, and this has been a crazier than usual campaign season. Here in Massachusetts, Senator Scott Brown has been hammering Elizabeth Warren about her claims of Native American heritage. I worry that if I declare my intention to run, somebody may decide to challenge my “claim” of being Jewish.
Warren relates that her parents had to elope because her father’s family hated the fact that her mother had Indian blood in her — and of two tribes, no less. Now, Native Americans have historically been vulnerable to not just regular old name-calling, you’re-not-marrying-into-my-family type of discrimination, but to actual herding into reservations like so many bison. So, while some of Warren’s relatives proudly regaled her with stories of her Cherokee and Delaware heritage, others worried about experiencing discrimination, so they would keep it quiet. Still others — perhaps from her father’s side — were ashamed of that branch of the family, so would deny it. Brown’s campaign staff uses that self-protecive denial to “prove” that she has no Native American blood.
For generations, minorities who wanted to get ahead in America felt that they had to hide their ethnicity. Then, as society began to open up, they were able to declare their ethnicity and religious affiliation without so much fear of discrimination. So, Warren identified herself as part Indian, saying that she did this in order to meet others with whom she would have something in common. When I went to college and grad school, I identified myself as Jewish, in order to get on certain mailing lists to meet other people with whom I might have something in common.
How can Elizabeth Warren prove that she is part Indian? After all, as Scott Brown loves to point out, she doesn’t “look it.” She has no documentation, although some of her recipes do appear in an Indian cookbook.
How can I prove that I am Jewish? I don’t “look it.” As Warren’s did, my parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents told me that I was Jewish. Like Warren, I don’t have documentation, although some of my recipes appear in Jewish cookbooks.
First we had to prove that we weren’t Native American or Jewish to get ahead. Now we have to prove the opposite. Irony, anyone?
If I should run for office, would Scott Brown’s war-whooping supporters mock me by singing tunes from “Fiddler on the Roof?”
I may have to re-think the whole campaign thing.