Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“…don’t say anything at all.” It seems that Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez of California forgot this classic bit of motherly wisdom. At a Democratic Party convention in Anaheim last Sunday, during which she addressed a group of Indian Americans, the congresswoman made a stereotypical Native American “war cry,” an act for which she later apologized. Despite her public apology, Sanchez was heavily criticized for this misstep.

It would be quite surprising if Sanchez is not adversely affected by what she did somewhere down the campaign trail. Her “war cry” was caught on video and uploaded via social media, which means that this event cannot be just forgotten; the Internet is forever, and it is only the chance that the video won’t go viral that saves her from further outcry. And while she made a public apology, this can’t mean a whole lot to the public, regardless of whether she means it or not. In the unwritten code of politics, it is practically mandatory for a politician to apologize as a face-saving gesture when dealing with a controversy such as this, so the public expects this as part of a formality. If she had not done so, she would certainly have been condemned by her party and the people she represents, but that does not mean she won’t be condemned anyway.

It may be that Sanchez will get through this issue scot-free, or she may very well face consequences come election time; she would not be the first politician to be ruined by a controversy. The latter possibility would really be an injustice for having happened in front of such a small group, but perhaps it is more unjust that such an insensitive event happened at all.

Considering that Sanchez is a Democrat, and therefore a member of a political party that upholds the stance of many minorities across the state, it is very shocking that she committed such a blatant offense in the presence of one of these minorities. Add to that the fact that she claims Native American heritage, having openly supported the rights of said group in the past, and it becomes crystal clear: this political blunder is just immensely inconceivable and out of character. It is even more disgusting considering that she was not addressing Native Americans at the time, but instead was talking to Indian Americans. She therefore committed a very racist act by ignoring the major distinction between these two groups, all because they both might be called “Indian” in less formal contexts.

Why, then, did Sanchez so egregiously violate the standard to which she seemed to hold herself? From her statement, it seems that it followed a “rush of meetings” and was the result of not being watched by her campaign managers. In other words, she claims it was all some big mistake. This leads to the question: what other ugly things might she have said if she had not been handled by her managers at the time? We will probably never know what exactly Sanchez was thinking when she said what she now regrets saying, nor will we know what other insulting thoughts (if any) have gone through her head. Given that she did not censor herself mid-sentence though, or did anything else that might indicate she was aware that what she did was inexcusable, it is obvious that she did not realize the magnitude of her offense at the time (or that there even was an offense).

Here is the crux of the problem, that she did not keep mind of her audience and surroundings. Of all the people in the public eye, politicians have to be mindful of what they say, because unlike celebrities (who might get more of that public eye), people actually chose the politicians to be in their office. For a politician, disrespecting any minority group is a serious crime, if not in legal terms, then at least in political terms. Sanchez, however, committed this same political crime to an even greater degree. California is a very diverse state, and the congresswoman for that state should know that. Therefore, Sanchez might as well have gone and thrown around every racial slur in the book, just to make sure she covered all the bases. She showed about that much care for her constituency by her ignorant verbal attack on not one but two minority groups.

“Accidents will happen,” might have well been Sanchez’s excuse for her this gaffe. That will definitely be consolation to the Native American and Indian American communities in California.