Jeff Jacoby

Twice Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have faced off in televised debates, and twice the Massachusetts Senate candidates traded blows over Warren's claim to American Indian ancestry within seconds of the opening bell. The Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger have launched dueling campaign ads calling even more attention to the issue, and there has even been a mini-kerfuffle over the low-rent antics of a few Brown staff members, who were filmed war-whooping and tomahawk-chopping at a campaign event in Dorchester.

Plainly the question of Warren's Cherokee heritage isn't going away any time soon. I'll be surprised if she and Brown don't sink their teeth into it again when they meet for Debate No. 3 in Springfield on Wednesday.

Maybe this time, for a change, they can focus on why it matters: not because race and color count, but because they never should.

One reason the issue doesn't matter is Warren's looks. "Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of color," Brown said less than 30 seconds into his first answer at their Sept. 20 debate in Boston. "And as you can see," he added, pointing to his blond-haired, blue-eyed rival, "she's not." It was a cringe-inducing moment. Does the junior senator from Massachusetts really think he can "see" racial identity? Does he believe that American Indians -- or Asians, or African Americans -- can be infallibly distinguished by their physical characteristics?

Then again, Brown isn't the only candidate in the Massachusetts Senate race who seems to think physical appearance equals racial corroboration. Warren does too. When controversy erupted in the spring over the fact that she listed herself for nearly a decade in the Association of American Law Schools directory of "minority law teachers," she told reporters that her grandfather "had high cheekbones like all of the Indians do."

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for