Saturday, November 13, 2010

Seven reasons why I don't like Indian Mascots, and I'm willing to bet there's at least one you haven't thought of before...

Okay. Here is my mascot rant. But it’s not like any other mascot rant. I don’t to chastise or tell you that it just sucks. Rather, I have listed seven facts that will hopefully give some insight into why it sucks, from the big things to the little things. I’m willing to bet that there are some facts listed here that you’ve never heard before, or that you’ve never thought about before, or that you haven’t thought about in this context before. Some of the facts you have heard before, but please don’t get frustrated. I’m writing this for everybody. And, as always, feel free to comment, criticize, etc. This will also be available at Thank you!

P.S. For you Stanford students, this is in direct response to the Fighting Harbaughs shirt. SHARE!

Fact one: we are a historically oppressed people.

The power dynamics that govern contemporary Native America are as old as first contact. Native populations were not only decimated by warfare, but also by diseases that were introduced to the new world. The rapid decline in population only reasserted European belief that they were dominant and able to control, enslave, and massacre the Natives. British, French, and Spanish empires negotiated (or coerced) Natives into compacts that outlined land settlements, resource usage, and power structures. As the “American” colonies were established, the sentiment of control and Manifest Destiny were furthered and the need to break from European practice allowed the new Americans to negate previously established agreements. After the revolution, compacts made by the British were considered null and void. At that point, American governments continued ‘treaty’ negotiations to outline definitions and restrictions for tribes. As American government and land mass expanded, so did their need to ‘deal with’ tribes. From extermination, to relocation, to assimilation – all acts of tribes were at the hand of outside forces.

Even contemporary issues that regulate tribal governments are at the hands of federal regulations. There are even cases where state rights trump tribal rights (even though that’s unconstitutional). Consider this – Native Americans are the only ethnic group in America that need document their blood quantum in order to be recognized by any governmental entity. There are also restrictions for a ‘minimum’ blood quantum to be considered part of a tribal entity.

To say that historical oppression has nothing to do with the current state of Native America is entirely naïve. Furthermore, to say that it’s in the past and that we should ‘get over it’ is extremely selfish and does not acknowledge that there is a domino effect to historical oppression.

This all should have been Native History 101, but I felt like it was somewhat relevant and necessary to establish that before I continue. If this IS new information, then please read only two fact two and then stop and educate yourself. Suggested reading: First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History by Collin Calloway, Vanishing American by Brian Dippie, American Indian Holocaust and Survival by Russell Thornton.

Fact two: somehow, in being a historically oppressed people, it became okay to objectify us.

Think about it – when you don’t like somebody one of the things you do is pick out the parts you don’t like or that make you different, play it up, and turn it into some sort of mock adjective. Example (an overly dramatic one, at that): “OMG. She drives me nuts! She is so stupid sometimes! And her hair?? That is SO wrong for her face. Can you imagine?? If I just walked around with my hair like that?? OMG I should do that for my costume this year!!” Obviously, I don’t talk like this. But do you get the point?

Now when we take that behavior and mindset up a few notches, we get more drastic convictions, adjectives, and resulting actions. Genocide and racism works best when you can ‘otherize’ or ‘dehumanize’ another culture or people.

Now let’s take the previous conversation and change it up a bit: “OMG. They drive me nuts! They are so stupid sometimes! And their noses?? That is SO wrong for their face. Can you imagine?? If I just walked around a nose like that?? OMG I should do that for my costume this year!!” Sorry Jews, I’m sure somebody said that in Nazi Germany at some point but with less text lingo.

Now let’s change it again to represent a different holocaust: “OMG. They drive me nuts! They are so savage sometimes! And their clothes?? That is SO wrong for their face. Can you imagine?? If I just walked around with clothes like that?? OMG I should do that for my costume this year!!” Side note – I did see a white girl dressed like an Indian for Halloween this year. I do every year. Did anybody go as a Jew this year? I don’t think so. In my eyes, she might as well have been wearing a holocaust jumpsuit with a tattoo on her arm. That’s how I felt. More native Americans were killed within the first ten years of European contact than Jews in the Holocaust. And neither of us have been the same since.

I think because of our small population and our historical oppression it’s okay to objectify us because we’re not as visible and we are unique to North American culture. We represent something that had to be conquered (and for all some people know, we ARE conquered), that was wild, savage, brute, and untamable for the success of America. So what more do you want as a mascot for your football team? Think of the adjectives ‘wild’, ‘savage’, ‘brute’, and ‘untamable’ and you get…the Redskins?

Objectification had a secondary consequence that affects individual tribes and tribal members more than Natives as a whole – it took away our tribal and individual identities. We take pride in who we are, how we dress, how we eat, and how we live and that is unique to each of our tribal identities. How does a Redskin dress? What does a Redskin eat? You’ve just taken what makes us unique, melted them all together, objectified it and turned it into YOUR thing. Have you ever had your identity stolen? You wallet taken? Or even somebody wore the same prom dress to your prom? Well imagine that, but then make it a million times worse and strip yourself of all the pride you have. THAT’S how it feels. And don’t pretend like you ‘relate.’ The truth is you don’t, and you probably won’t. But at least try and understand and compromise.

Again, if this is new information, stop now. Stop reading, go back and read facts one and two again, find some of the suggested reading, and mull it over a few days THEN come back and read the rest. Suggested viewing: “Reel Injun”, a documentary by Neil Diamond and produced by Charlie Hill. Suggested reading: Honest Injun by Sandra Schulman, and look up some history on the Florida State Seminoles and NCAA mascot business. The Seminoles are unique, but the issue should be addressed on a team-by-team basis.

Fact three: at some point, it became an act of hypersensitivity to overtly react to stereotypical and oppressive images of us.

The Civil Rights era did wonders for American politics and altered the social landscape significantly. People started to realize that it’s not okay to wear blackface and treat people unequally because of the color of their skin. The word ‘offensive’ actually started to mean something and permeate American vocabulary. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. Somehow we’ve lost that momentum. Historical oppressions can’t be fixed, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be recognized and that they should be forgotten.

Dressing like an Indian is fun again because it was a ‘long time ago.’ What the hell does that even mean?? “IT” was “A LONG TIME AGO”?? What was a long time ago? What is this IT you speak of? I’m right frickin’ here! “Oh, well it’s a joke. You can’t take a joke?” Well, your joke isn’t funny. Remember from fact two when I asked if you’ve ever had your wallet taken? Well, by standing in front of your ‘joke’ it’s like you stole my wallet and my identity all over again. The “IT” your talking about isn’t funny either. Are you trying to say that we are no longer allowed to dress in our native dress because it was a long time ago, and some of us have lost our culture because of assimilation and can’t even replicate our native language, dress, or foods and now that’s funny? Or are you trying to say that the manner in which we used to live, and survive healthily has been taken away and now that’s funny? Or are you making a comment on how you stole our land and our resources and now you can comfortably dress (and afford to dress) however you want because of your privilege that you gained at our expense and now that’s funny? Please, tell me what’s funny, because I want to know. I don’t get your joke. And don’t get mad at me because I don’t get your joke. And don’t sit back and let other people tell ‘this joke’ because you don’t want to offend them. Or you don’t want to seem like the overly politically correct jackass of the group. It’s not a matter of being politically correct; it’s a matter of respect and I WILL COMMAND RESPECT FROM YOU. I want my identity back.

Is it being hypersensitive to want your identity back? Think about it.

Fact four: that act of hypersensitivity has been internalized, where WE now think it is hypersensitive to react to such images.

In my opinion Natives that condone the use of Indian mascots either: a) don’t understand the history of their people, or b) have internalized their oppression and now find ways to talk themselves out of standing up for themselves, or c) have internalized this sense of hypersensitivity. All answers are wrong. Not that there’s a correct one, but these avenues are not the way to go about changing the status quo. And if we can’t even stand up for ourselves, how can educate others and expect things to change? The simple truth is that we can’t.

Fact five: lack of self-confidence leads to a continuation of internalized oppression.

If I am not encouraged in believing in myself because of your preconceived notions about me, then I will continue to fail at being a productive human being. If revealing a part of my identity to you, a part that defines me, will induce images of tomahawks and wigwams, then it is a hard thing to wear proudly. And if you are not receptive to my requests that you respect my culture, and acknowledge OUR history (yes, you are a part of our collective history), then that makes it hard for me to want to change things.

What you need to understand about this is that this is a DIALOGUE. Seeing people dressed as Indians for Halloween isn’t conducive to a dialogue and makes me think that this is a one sided conversation because you have silenced me from your ears. Your dominant narrative has demonstrated that dressing like an Indian is funny and you don’t have to listen to me. That takes away self-confidence, and takes away my power as an individual. Again, you’ve stolen my wallet.

One thing that I ask all white allies, and other people of color to understand, is that this generation of Native youth is unique in historical and contemporary perspective. The 1900s was an era of Indian assimilation. Most of our parents and grandparents were encouraged and sometimes forced to forget their culture, their language, and their traditions. They had been removed from their traditional lands and taught that they were bad because of where they came from. They were taught to not be proud of the color of their skin and the length of their hair. They were told that they would not become anything in life if they did not abandon their culture.

And most of them did.

What if you parents continually told you that you couldn’t be anything because of who you were, and not because of your ambition? Again, I don’t expect you to relate, but I expect you to at least try and understand.

Fact six: continued internalized oppression leads to divisions within communities, rather than equipping them with the tools they need to be successful as self-governing and self-sustaining cultures.

This is a whole separate rant, but I had to put it in here. If you’d like to know more about this, please contact me.

Fact seven: lack of education leads to a continuation of intolerance.

I can’t expect anything to change if I don’t continually talk about it and advocate for myself. Also, since the current power dynamics includes a variety of peoples and populations, I can’t change anything without including EVERYBODY in the dialogue. I also can’t expect anything to change if you don’t help me. You can help me by talking to others and spreading awareness. You can even help me by asking questions.

You can share this rant.

You can also talk to me about this rant, and if you’d like to share it but you think one of your friends won’t understand something then let me know and I will rewrite it for you.

If you think your friend doesn’t understand a certain type of language I used, or a certain concept, then I will rewrite it. I want to make sure that all of this is accessible to everybody.

Thank you for your attention and let me know if you have any comments, questions, or just want to chat. Thanks!

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