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Battling Racism

How 'Indian' mascots oppress
Written by John Two-Hawks - Oglala Lakota Activist, Speaker and Musician



What is wrong with "Indian" Mascots and Team Names?

The answer to this open question is both complex and simple.  The simple

answer is that they are disrespectful and hurtful to First Nations people.
Some of the names and antics seen at games are nothing less than racist.
Not long ago there was a restaurant chain in America called 'Sambos'.
Mainstream America didn't get why the name of that restaurant was so
upsetting to African Americans.  They did not understand what the big
deal was.  But for African American people, it was a very big deal.  The
word 'Sambo' had a long and nasty history, having been used as a racial
slur against African American people.  It took a considerable effort,
but eventually the "Sambos" name was no more, and not long after,
the restaurants were gone.  So here we are, decades later, and names
like 'Red***ns' and 'Braves' are still being used by sports teams and by
public schools with no thought of how blatantly racist these terms are.
And again, mainstream America doesn't 'get it'.  Sports announcers on
TV regularly say out loud the word 'red****s' like it is nothing, when in
fact that word is every bit as toxic to us as n****r is to African Americans.
It astounds me that this could still be new information to anyone, since
our people have been publicly protesting the use of the 'R' word since
it's inception.  Since the first use of so called "Indian" mascots, real
Indian people have publicly protested against them.  Here, I continue
that protest, and ask that finally, after so long, someone will listen.

Allow me address next some of the common questions and arguments
we First Nations people have all heard, and hopefully provide a clearer
understanding as to why these "Indian" mascots and team names and all
that goes along with them need to be forever removed from sports teams
on the public school, university and professional franchise levels...........

1.  "We are honoring Native Americans"

Okay, let's start by getting something straight.  First, we do not call ourselves
'Native Americans'.  We call ourselves by our nation, or just plain ol Indian.
After all, anyone born in America can lay claim to being a 'Native American'
right?  Right.  Now, onto the 'we're honoring you' claim.  There are so many
things I can tell you about the sports team names, mascots and imagery that
are anything but an 'honor' that it would take up more time than you have to
read.  So let's just hit the basics - the 'R' word is racist, not an honor.  The
word 'Braves' is a racial slur, not an honor.  Mascots and fans dressing up
like 'Indians' is insulting and highly offensive, not an honor.  Fans performing
'tomahawk chops' at games are insulting and highly offensive, not an honor.
Are we seeing a pattern here?  Let me put it this way, I don't care what it is
you think you want to 'honor' someone with, if they tell you it is not an honor,
well then guess what?  It's not an honor!  Now listen, I realize there are
folks who find this hard to understand, and for those people I have a helpful
suggestion.  If you really want to honor First Nations people, go to where we
live.  Spend time with our people.  Open your heart to who we really are, and
what our stories really are.  Take time to listen, really listen.  Maybe then you
will begin to understand the deep, complex reasons why "Indian" team names
and mascots are so terribly damaging to our people, especially our children.

2.  "I know Indians who have no problem with "Indian" mascots"

Let me say right here that I am fully aware that some of our reservation schools
use names like 'Braves' or 'Warriors'.  This is where the issue gets complex.  You
see, often these names were not chosen by our people, but by the non-Indian
people who started those reservation schools.  The difference here is that it is
actual Indians in these schools and on these teams.  Suffice it to say that you
will never see a feathered up, war-painted mascot at these games.  You will also
never hear a fake 'war song' or see a 'tomahawk chop'.  Why?  Because REAL
Indians don't do that kind of crap.  Now, having said all that, my personal feeling
is that names like 'Braves' etc.. should be changed even on our reservations.
But I am only one indigenous voice, and I know there those who may disagree.
As I said, this issue can be complex.  Now let me assert here that, when Rosa
Parks decided not to give up her seat on that bus in the south back in the 60's,
there were some African American people who were not in accord with her,
and understandibly so.  However, just because some didn't share the same view
as Rosa Parks doesn't change the fact that Rosa Parks was right.  So just because
some Indian people say they don't share the view that "Indian" mascots are
oppressive and racist doesn't change the fact that they are.  And by the way, just
because the Seminole Nation of Florida says they have 'no issue' with the Florida
State University 'Seminoles' name and mascot, doesn't change the fact that it is
wrong.  Let me put it this way, money doesn't make it right either.  ;-)

3.  "It's our 'tradition'"

This one always blows my mind.  Your 'tradition'??  Really?  80 years?  We have
tradition that is countless tens of thousands of years old.  And none of those
traditions bear any resemblance to the stereotyped, caricatured images and
antics associated with so-called "Indian" mascots and team names. Enough said.

4.  "I wouldn't be offended, so why are you?"

The answer to this is obvious, but hard to relate without sounding prejudiced.
Suffice it to say that this comment often comes from 'people of privilege', and I
have learned over many, many years, that it can be difficult for these folks to
comprehend what racial oppression is, and what it feels like to actually suffer
from it.  When I say 'people of privilege', I do not mean they are 'rich', but rather
so accustomed to the 'hand-me-downs' of privilege that they literally have no
concept that oppressed people never get these 'hand-me-down' privileges.
Never.  They also have little to no history of racial oppression.  So, if we were to
create an 'offensive' name or mascot for these folks, they really would not be all
that offended.  They would, in a sense, 'laugh all the way to the bank.'  They would
not be offended.  It's true.  And the reason is they have little to no history of racial
oppression. So when they hear that Indian people are offended by oppressive, racist
imagery they simply cannot comprehend what that feels like, thus they often see
our offense as an over-reaction and wonder to themselves "what's the big deal?".
 
5.  "This is just 'political correctness' run amok"

Let me respond to this first by saying that I loathe the the term 'political
correctness'.  What, for crying out loud, is so 'political' about being correct?
In my opinion, whining about 'political correctness' is just code for complaining
about having to do the right thing and show a little respect and decency.  Nothing
is political about that.  "Indian" mascots and team names, and the disgusting
antics associated with them are racist, insulting and damaging to our children,
and our culture.  Getting rid of them has nothing to do with 'politics', and everything
to do with respect and decency.  Anyone who whines about being asked to be
respectful and do the right thing is, in my estimation, a coward and a crybaby.

6.  How do these mascots/team names hurt First Nations people?

Well, for starters, they insult.  More importantly, they cause our children to feel
embarrassed and ashamed of who they are.  That fact is what makes me angry.
I have watched Indian children from 9 year old girls to 17 year old boys weep as
a direct result of the damage caused to them by so-called "Indian" mascots and
team names.  This is why some of us get so furious.  These racist images and
antics are hurting our children, and that is intolerable and unacceptable.  On a
larger scale, "Indian" mascots serve to trivialize us as a people.  This has gone
on for centuries, and it served it's purpose then as it does now.  Then, it served
to mobilize the 'Manifest Destiny' belief that justified the genocide of our people
for the 'progress of civilization'.  In those days we were portrayed as soul-less,
war-mongering savage warriors.  And the portrayal worked.  The 'mascot' did
its job.  Mainstream America bought the lie the 'mascot' told, and Indian people
were assaulted and massacred from sea to shining sea.  Today the "Indian"
'mascot' serves to trivialize and subjugate us, to relegate us to second-class
citizens, and reduce us to mythological status.  We are like a fairy tale to most
Americans.  And the result is that we are not included in the national conversation.
We are left out at every turn, because America would rather have their 'mascot'.
'White, Black, Hispanic and Asian'... and that's it!  Never a mention of our people.
This is how "mascots" hurt First Nations people.  They totally and completely
trivialize who we are, and insult our ethnicity, our race, and our culture.




SOME EXPLANATIONS....

Sports team mascots that use racial slurs....

Savages
I don't think this one needs a whole lot of explaining.  Indian people are not beasts,
and never were, but were considered to be 'uncivilized', bloodthisty, demon 'savages'
by european invaders
merely because Native societies were foreign to them.  This
term was part of the reason for the genocide of Indigenous people, as it was used by
the mainstream media of the time to portray Indians as these horrifying creatures.
It worked.  Early Americans believed it, and the mass genocide of Indian people
and the theft of Indian land in the name of 'Manifest Destiny' began.  Mascots work.

Squaws
This is a word that has been used to refer to Indian women.  Used as a name for many parks,
valleys, mountains etc.  The term 'squaw' is VERY offensive to Indian women.  The term was
taken from an Algonquin word which made reference to female genitalia.  The word was
taken and twisted by those european immigrants who would rape Indian women.  They used
the term in much the same way the "C" word is used today, as a denigrating term to women.
It is NOT funny. It is a racial slur and only a racist would keep using it after learning this.

Redsk**s
Used as a name for many sports teams, this word is offensive by its very nature.  In it's
origin, it refers to the bloody scalps of Indian children, women and men that were sold for
bounties aside animal skins in the USA.  At this sad period in american history, Indians
young and old, male and female, were hunted like animals by bounty hunters.  They were
killed, and then scalped.
  When these bounty hunters would come to the trading post, they
would receive payment for their deer-skins,
their, beaver-skins, their raccoon-skins, and
their red-skins. It is sickening that
this horrifying word is still used as a sports team name.
This word is every bit as toxic to Native people as the 'N' word is to African Americans.

Braves
This is a word that has been used to denigrate Indian men.  It dehumanizes the Indian male
and equates him to
something less than human.  The terms 'buck' and 'doe' were also used
by early european immigrants as a way to patronize Indian men and women.  As you can see,
they also infer that the Indian person is in some way inhuman.  This same line of thinking is
what causes some to believe they have the right to reduce Indian people to a sports team mascot.

Chiefs
This is a word that is commonly given today as a nickname which insults Indian
men.  The cultural equivelant would be to nickname all white men 'Prez' or 'King'.
The term 'chief' itself is incorrect.  Indian leaders were never 'chiefs', but headmen,
or clan mothers, and so on.  Not 'chiefs'.
  Native leaders were highly disrespected by
the USA.  So calling someone 'Chief', is just a way to continue that disrespect....

Further Explanation....

These 'Indian' mascots/team names oppress Indian people.  They oppress
because they continue in the
use of extreme negative stereotypical antics,
words
and images.  Antics like the 'tomahawk-chop', mock 'Indian war-chants', non-Indians painting their faces and dressing-up like 'Indians', mascots
performing
mock 'Indian' dances or throwing fiery spears etc..  Words like
'r*****n', 'brave', 'Chief Wahoo' etc..  And images like the guy dressed up in
fake "Indian" regalia at the Washington NFL team games, and the red-faced,
big nosed, big toothed, big feathered 'Chief Wahoo' of the Cleveland 'Indians'.

Indian children cannot possibly look at a stadium full of thousands of people
mocking their ethnicity and making
a mockery of their traditions and feel good
about being Indian.  This
is what 'Indian mascots' do.  They glorify all the stupid
old stereotypes and steal the pride Indian children could have in the beauty of
their race.  They insult the entire Indian race.

Insulting an entire race.... the very real definition of racism....


Many thousands of institutions, public-schools, colleges and
universities
have made the decision to do the right thing and
remove their "Indian" mascots and team names
in exchange
for names that are non-racial, non-ethnic
and non-racist.
It is the morally right choice.


"I believe that the hidden agenda behind Indian mascots and logos is about cultural,
spiritual, and intellectual
exploitation.  It's an issue of power and control.  These
negative ethnic images are driven by those that want to define other ethnic groups
and control their
images.  To me, power and control is the ability to make you believe
that someone's truth is the absolute
truth.  Furthermore, it's the ability to define a
reality
and to get other people to affirm that reality as if it were their own.  As long as
such negative mascots
and logos remain within the arena of school activities, both
Indigenous and non-Indigenous
children are learning to tolerate racism in schools."

                Excerpt from an article by Dr. Cornel Pewewardy
                                                                    Comanche/Kiowa


It is my hope that these honest words have touched
your heart and made common sense to you.  Racism
is racism, no matter how 'attractive' one makes it
look.  Pilamaye (Thank you) for taking the time to
read this material.  Stop in again, as maybe some
day you will come here, and this page will be gone!


 

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Written by - John Two-Hawks