Friday, February 11, 2011

The Last Acceptable Racism

There has been a standing debate on the use of indigenous people's as sports mascots for as long as there have been sports mascots. Defenders often make the claim that they are "honoring" the people in question by using certain images and terms. In the linked article, David Kimelberg makes the argument that the treatment of Native Americans in media and pop culture would be disgusting and abhorrent if committed against any other race or ethnic group. Kimelberg argues that the perpetuation of overt racism towards Native Americans is partly due to the fact that the legacy of cultural genocide has largely convinced non-Natives that American Indians aren't part of the modern world anymore, but mere characters in stories, history books, and the USA's legendary past.


  1. Wow. So, I did some wiki'ing and found that some poll (I'm not referencing the vague-as-hell Sports Illustrated one) showed a disconnect between attitudes towards these mascots between actual Native Americans and activists. Something like 90% of native people don't have a problem with mascots like Chief Wahoo.

    Eh.... I don't see this as a justification for keeping these mascots in place. This is a matter of identity politics, and a group of people who have always had exposure to these characters, who have always been underprivileged, probably aren't going to oppose these things as fiercely as people who study this stuff intensely. You could also chalk it up to a form of internalized oppression, that people have somehow accepted caricatures of themselves as a part of their identity.

    My high school mascot was a "Warrior", and at football games, the actual mascot would be a girl in braided pigtails wearing feathers and some baggy suede suit thing. Honestly, no one ever had an issue with it because there are/were no native folks at my school. When these people are seen as somehow not a part of modern American society, just as "mere characters in stories, history books, and the USA's legendary past" as Paris said, it's very, very easy to objectify them.

    Similarly, in my little town, I don't think anyone had ever heard of "guido" culture or Jersey Italians before the show Jersey Shore. As a part-Italian from NJ, I'm a bit sensitive to the fact that probably millions of very poorly informed Americans have defined "my people" /entirely/ by this show.

  2. That's a good point, Colleen, Native American's aren't a homogenous group of people sharing a single opinion on any issue. Many people argue that this mascot debate is a huge waste of time, and we'd be better served discussing things like healthcare and education equality.

    On the other hand, symbols and identity have real social impacts. The belief that Native Americans are imaginary and/or extinct is alarmingly common. Can the symbol of a dancing warrior be reconciled with the reality modern Americans demanding their due rights as both U.S. citizens and Indigenous peoples?