Opinion

Steve Russell: Racism emerges in Oklahoma Senate campaign






T.W. Shannon, Republican of Oklahoma. Courtesy photo

Steve Russell discuss the challenges facing T.W. Shannon, a member of the Chickasaw Nation who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Oklahoma:
Well, Cousin Ray Sixkiller and I have been observing the race to succeed Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. One of the leading contenders is T.W. Shannon, who goes by his initials because his first name is Tahrohon. His father is Chickasaw and his mother is African-American, and he is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. If elected, he’ll be the first Indian in the Senate since Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and part of a short list of Indians who ever served in that body in addition to Campbell: Robert Owen (Cherokee, who also ran for president) and Charles Curtis (Kaw, who was also elected vice president).

A wealthy rancher and prominent supporter of Shannon’s primary opponent, Rep. James Lankford, posted on his Facebook page, “Indians aren’t Oklahomans.” The New York Times quoted an Oklahoma Tea Party group arguing that Shannon “has too many masters to serve,” among them “Indian tribes.”

Like all Republicans in these times, Shannon panders to the crazy vote or he loses the Republican Primary, and in Oklahoma that’s tantamount to losing the election. Shannon’s share of the crazy vote is captured by support from Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, but what the Times called a “whispering campaign” against Shannon’s Chickasaw citizenship will test the amount of overlap in a Venn diagram of crazy voters and racist voters. You have to understand Oklahoma to wrap your head around the racist appeal being directed at Indian blood when African blood is available. Okie racists are versatile.

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: The Indians Are Coming! (Indian Country Today 5/12)

Related Stories:
Chickasaw candidate faces questions about tribal connections (05/05)