I wrote recently about my great distaste for the Cleveland Indians logo of Chief Wahoo and how as long as they kept the logo I was perfectly content if they never won a single game again, let alone win the World Series. I have been totally unconvinced by those who say it is harmless or even meant to honor Indians.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Denis K. Norman, chair of the Native American Program of study at Harvard University, who gave a talk on disparities in health among American Indians and learned some interesting things from him.
For example, I had thought that the term ‘Native American’ was the most respectful way to refer to them but he says no. When Indians refer to themselves their first preference is to self-identify by their tribe names. Their second preference is to call themselves ‘Indians’. The term Native American is not favored by them and is their third choice. It is, however, the term favored by non-Indian academics (hence his job title above). So in light of that information, in future I will refer to them as Indians. If there is any risk of confusion, the qualified American Indian or Asian Indian can be used.
Secondly, he said that when it comes to seeing themselves represented as sports teams names and mascots, most of them hate it but also felt that they had more pressing issues to be concerned about and thus it was relatively few of them who took on this as a cause to be actively fought over. He also said that some names (like Redskins) are clearly more offensive than others (like Chiefs) and some logos (like Wahoo) are more offensive than others (like a headdress).
He pointed me to this resolution by the American Psychological Association that he felt had the best take on the situation. The resolution “called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations. APA’s position is based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.” PZ Myers also recently posted the American Indian Movement Manifesto on Racism in Sports and Media.
Gyassi Ross has an excellent article on the controversy involving the term Washington Redskins ad the whole issue generally. In the course of it he makes an important point:
The “Redskins” debate is similar to the “nigger” debate, yet unlike with the “nigger” debate, outsiders feel perfectly comfortable telling Native people how they should feel. I suppose that’s the most frustrating part of the debate—that we Native people, the folks who are the only meaningful stakeholders in this debate—are not allowed to have a voice in the matter. Correct that: We can have an opinion so long as it is pro-Redskin. Otherwise, we’re being “too sensitive.”
No non-black person has ever, EVER called a black person a “nigger” in recent times and then told that black person that he was being “too sensitive” if/when he got upset. NO non-black person uses the internal value of the word “nigger” as a justification for a non-black person to keep using the word. NO non-black person says, “The word ‘nigger’ was pretty harmless at one time, therefore I’m going to just throw it around a bit. Try it out. See if it works for me.” NO non-black person has ever gone rummaging through American cities in search of a black person who’s not offended by the word “nigger,” and then held them up as proof that the word isn’t so bad. (“See? There are some black folks that aren’t offended by the word, therefore it CAN’T BE racist.”)
Why not? Because black folks decided that they wouldn’t stand for the word anymore, and it’s now understood that “nigger” belongs to black folks. It’s theirs to do with as they wish, and it’s simply racist when other groups use it. If black people choose to use it, that’s their business—they’ve paid a heavy price to own that word. Similarly, “redskins” is Native people’s word. If it’s unfortunate and sad that we use it, hey, that’s our choice. We paid the price for this racist and loaded term.
Instead, we have a bunch of white men telling us that it’s not racist, and a bunch of black folks who continue to think that it can’t be racist because it’s black men wearing the jerseys and, hey, it’s just a football team.
While the team owner has said that he will keep the name.
Some well known sports reporters like Peter King and Bob Costas have said that they will stop using the name ‘Redskins’ for the Washington football team, drawing the usual ire from fans who seem to have a weird and irrational sense of identification with these racist images.
One radio host confronted King on his show, asking:
“This has been going on for a hundred years and now the media has turned? How come Christine Brennan or Bob Costas, or Peter King … or, you know, Obama, or the Indian groups … where were they in 1968? Where were they in 1973? Where were they in 2007? Now all of a sudden it’s a problem. Why? Why now? I don’t understand… But why was this not a problem with the Native Americans for the last one-hundred years, and it’s a problem now? That’s what I can’t figure out.”
I don’t know why he is puzzled. He really can’t figure this out? Or doesn’t want to because the answer is obvious? Because what he is arguing is a variation of the stupid ‘its tradition’ argument, that what was good for our grandparents should be good for us.
There is a long list of many offensive terms that were accepted or condoned or ignored before that we now have a heightened awareness of, and sensitivity to, as being offensive and as a result we no longer use them.
That process is called becoming more enlightened.