The Lady Speaks

Is YOUR Mascot a Racial Stereotype?

“Chief Illiniwek” of the University of Illinois will perform for the last time tonight. In fact, as I write this, the student who dances as Chief Illiniwek may have already made history as the last person to do so.

From YahooSports:

The University of Illinois’ controversial American Indian mascot was set to perform his last dance, and men who have previously portrayed Chief Illiniwek said they want the tradition to live on in some form.

The mascot, whose fate was decided by school officials last week, will take center stage at Assembly Hall for one last performance during the men’s basketball game between Illinois and Michigan on Wednesday night.

[snip]

Removing the chief frees the university of NCAA sanctions after the organization deemed Illiniwek — portrayed by buckskin-clad students who dance at home football and basketball games and other athletic events — an offensive use of American Indian imagery and barred the school from hosting postseason athletic events.

I applaud the decision of the University of Illinois to comply with NCAA regulations and join the 21st century in ending the use of a stereotype.

Now, it’s past time for state and regional high school sports leagues to follow the NCAA’s lead and mandate an end to “an offensive use of American Indian imagery.”

My daughter’s school calls itself, no kidding, the Redskins.

I have a lot of problems with this, and have since we first moved here. Let me give you a few examples of what I find offensive: 1) in the sports section of their website (which I won’t link to, for privacy reasons) there are “cute” little caricatures of Indians in feathered headdress and buckskin leggings holding basketballs, pretending to be swimming, performing a split and holding pompoms, 2) their mascot is a chief in feathered headdress, 3) there’s a freakin’ tipi on the track/football field!

For one thing, they’ve mixed up their tribes. The Plains Indians wore the feathered headdress seen on the mascot, not the Susquehannas and/or the Lenni Lenape (Eastern Delaware Nation) which actually lived in this area. Also, the Native tribes of this area lived in longhouses, not tipis.

This is important to note because the school is about to celebrate its quasquicentennial (125 years) and thus, was founded about the time of the Indian wars. Back in the early years of the school, people weren’t thinking about ethnic stereotypes, they were busy reading about the Bighorn, Sand Creek and Pine Ridge massacres. (Although, back then, they didn’t call them massacres. They were “battles” won or lost by the Army.)

Second, the administrators, boosters, players, etc, don’t seem to understand that the word “Redskin” is an ethnic slur. One of the most offensive phrases used by this school – and its faculty, students, and alumni – is: “Redskin Pride.” Literally, this phrase makes me gag.

Let’s be honest. This is a small school district, 95% or so white. There’s little native ancestry here, if only because their ancestors wiped out the native populations with their diseases and their wars. These people have a misguided sense of pride if they can use the word “Redskin” as if it were some type of positive attribute – one to which they have no claim.

Over the summer, my mom got into a bit of a verbal tiff with a booster who had the utter audacity to say they weren’t demeaning anyone. It was, she said, a way of “honoring” the Native peoples.

Huh?

How utterly stupid. As a person of Native ancestry, I don’t feel “honored.” I feel insulted. My Native ancestors were not “Redskins.” Those ancestors were of the Bear Clan of the the People of the Standing Stone (Oneida Nation) of the Six Nations of the Iroquois.

The Six Nations’ Articles of Confederacy – creating the oldest known participatory democracy – later inspired the framing of the Constitution of the United States. In fact, the Six Nations’ confederation was considered so important to the writing, a delegation of Iroquois were asked to meet with the Continental Congress, and John Hancock was given an Iroquois name: Karanduawn, or the Great Tree. (Read more.)

Do you think those whose ancestors were slaves, would feel “honored” if the team was called the “Niggers”? Do you think anyone of Jewish ancestry would feel “honored” if the team was called the “Kikes”? Do you think any of the multitudes in this district who came from Irish and Italian immigrants would feel “honored” if the team was the “Micks” or the “Wops”?

Of course not!

Those are all derogatory words used to debase another race or belief or ethnic background, and are recognized as such by nearly every sentient being in this country. There is no such recognition for the constant slurs against Native peoples used by sports teams across the nation, professional or otherwise.

Let’s put it this way, for those still so blind that they continue defending the use of “Redskins” for their high school teams: Would you feel comfortable calling anyone a “Redskin” while you were busy dumping money in a slot machine at Turning Stone or Salamanca?

Ooh! I saw that! Made you a bit uncomfortable, eh? It’s one thing to yell “Go Redskins” at a football game, and quite another to actually use it in a place where the owners are “Redskins.”

It’s past time for all sports teams to replace names and mascots which represent “an offensive use of American Indian imagery.

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February 22, 2007 - Posted by | America, Constitution, Education, Ethnic Stereotypes, Native Americans, Pennsylvania, Protest, Sports

10 Comments »

  1. Yes, it is past time.
    Civil rights should most definitely apply to all cultures, races, creed, sexes, etc in America. Especially, the first Americans.
    Thank you.
    Please pass this on to the local school boards responsible.
    Thanks.

    Comment by mom | February 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. I think there are a lot more important things in this world to worry about.

    I think that most Native Americans couldn’t care less. Some tribes, like the Seminoles, even endorse schools using their name as a mascot.

    Comment by David | February 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. There are more important things, agreed. Like Iraq, Iran, poverty, millions without health insurance, etc, etc, etc., and I do worry about them.

    However, this is just one of those things that sticks in my craw. As I stated, do you think anyone would be offended if we called the team the “N—–s” or the “Pickaninnies”? Heck, why bother arguing it? Let’s change the name to Pickaninnies, put a slave shack up on the football field, have the cheerleaders dance with chains, and when anyone complains, we’ll tell them there’s “more important things to worry about.”

    From the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media:

    The American Indian community for 50 years has worked to banish images and names like Cleveland’s chief wahoo, Washington redskins, Kansas City chiefs, Atlanta braves. We work to remind people of consciousness of the use of the symbols resemblance to other historic, racist images of the past. Chief wahoo offends Indian people the same way that little black sambo offended African Americans and the frito bandito offended the Hispanic community and should have offended all of us. It assaults the principle of justice.

    Last year during the media hype that surrounded the baseball playoff games between New York and Cleveland, the New York Post caught up in the hype covered its front page with the headline, “Take the Tribe and Scalp ‘Em.” Little concern was shown for the Indian children, or community living in New York City, or around the country. The American public has been conditioned by sports industry, educational institutions, and the media to trivialize Indigenous culture as common and harmless entertainment. On high school and college campuses Native American students do not feel welcome if the school uses as its mascot (not a clown, a mythical creature, or an animal) a Chief, the highest political position you can attain in our society. Using our names, likeness and religious symbols to excite the crowd does not feel like honor or respect, it is hurtful and confusing to our young people. To reduce the victims of genocide to a mascot is unthinking, at least, and immoral at worst. An educational institution’s mission is to educate, not mis-educate, and to alleviate the ignorance behind racist stereotypes, not perpetuate them and to provide a nondiscriminatory environment for all its students, conducive to learning.

    And from Butterflies and Wheels:

    To begin with, we can ask why we should expect members of an ethnic group to be automatically flattered by our representations of their culture. Even if the portrayal is accurate (which the Chief, as we will see, is not), why should the culture feel honored by it? This seems to be a rather patronizing attitude toward a minority culture – one that demands its appreciation for the scraps of esteem we toss its way. Furthermore, it just isn’t true that any representation in any context can legitimately function as a tribute. Even if the university believes the Chief to be an authentic representation of Native American traditions, it is using those traditions as a novelty act to entertain sports fans. How would supporters of the Chief feel if, say, the Holy Eucharist were re-enacted as a halftime skit at the Superbowl (admittedly, a rather boring one), or if a mascot dressed as a Bishop chased young boys around during the seventh inning stretch? Many Christians would doubtless find many reasons to be offended by these antics, but I suggest they’d especially dislike the fact that a symbol they hold sacred is functioning as ribald mass entertainment. They should keep this in mind when arguing that the similar use of tribal traditions should overwhelm Native Americans with gratitude to their great white father.

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 24, 2007 | Reply

  4. And I’ll add Jon Saraceno, sportswriter for USA Today:

    […] Wednesday, thankfully, the University of Illinois reluctantly took out its shovel, gilded as it is, and buried Chief Illiniwek, if for all the wrong reasons.

    For those against the NCAA’s arm-twisting — designed to curb the Native American imagery it deems hostile — it tramples on powerful tradition and symbolism. Those people can’t understand how such noble virtues are misconstrued.

    Proponents blithely consider such imagery to be historical, instructive and, yes, complimentary. Personally, I think we should let Native Americans decide if they’re offended by blatant racial stereotyping.

    After all, it’s 2007 — not 1957.

    America wants Native Americans confined to a place where they are powerless and objects of entertainment: It dresses white kids from the suburbs in feathered headdresses, war paint and moccasins. If only their real demise had been so amusing.

    {snip]

    Meanwhile, the NCAA didn’t institute its policy until 2005. Did it miss the news about Dartmouth leading the ban-the-mascot parade in 1969? Marquette banishing Willie Wampum in ’70? Bradley University abolishing its American Indian caricature logo in the ’80s? San Diego State killing Monty Montezuma in 2001?

    I don’t often fancy the NCAA’s idea of justice, but I’ve caught the Chief’s dance routine. I don’t know if I would call it antagonistic, but it left me chagrined.

    Some students remain irate. They lowered the level of discourse and revealed their contempt.

    The most startling aspect is that universities are supposed to be halls of enlightenment, not dark corridors of ignorance. They should not stand for discriminatory practices. College students, in addition to taking classes, should learn some empathy.

    They should not stand for the mental incarceration of others. (Spare us the fallacious Fighting Irish “argument.” Leprechauns are not real people — they are mythical. Besides, when was the last time you heard an Irish-American group protest about being linked to Notre Dame?)

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 24, 2007 | Reply

  5. We are still the Bradley Braves…my sociology class had a whole dicussion about this. They sent out a legitamate “poll” asking which new mascot we would prefer. And the choices were obsurd such as the tornados and rabbits. ( i dont remember the exact names) but they were like that.

    Comment by Mike a Bradley University student | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  6. You make an interesting point, Mike. Why is it that when asked about changing the name, they always seem to come up with something… well, wimpy. “Hey, we’re the Cuddly Bunnies! Hoo-ah!”

    In their bid not to offend, they go to extremes.

    “But, Dean, calling them the Knights could mean the English-Americans become upset! And ‘Defenders’? How do we know they were the defenders? Maybe they were the ‘Offenders!'”

    “How about ‘Baby Chicks?’ Everyone loves baby chicks!”

    “No, sir. I’m sure that might upset PETA.”

    “Hmm…very well. How about calling them the ‘Synthetic Fluffy Fibers?'”

    Comment by PA_Lady | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  7. […] The blog post he’s requesting permission to reprint is from February 22, 2007 and is entitled, Is YOUR Mascot a Racial Stereotype? […]

    Pingback by Cool News! « The Lady Speaks | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  8. Words have power. Some high school students live by the power of their teams…We are the Warriors, Tigers, Bears, etc. are what you hear at games. What fund raisers are based on. It is part of the High School identity.
    They remember that for years, and the effects linger. (Which is why so many middle aged men are still trying to live their glory days.)
    So, being pro-active in the use of mascots and team monikers that uplift and enlighten may help a whole new generation to open their eyes and ears. I noticed that the local Redskins team, now has uniforms which display only the word ‘Skins. That is a beginning. Now lets get rid of the tomahawks, the dancing chief, and the tipi.

    Comment by Mom | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  9. I am working with a publisher that would like to include this entry in a textbook, Please email if you are interested. The email addressed linked in this blog bounces back.

    Comment by Linda Teegen | May 1, 2013 | Reply

    • Linda: Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve emailed you.

      Comment by PA_Lady | May 17, 2013 | Reply


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