Posted on May 9, 2008 - Filed Under Uncategorized |
From the Author:
*Special thanks to Edouardo Zendejas, who urged me to tackle this issue. Mr. Zendejas holds a Juris Doctorate from
American Indian Mascots:
A Past Grievance?
By Jill Beattie
White people are sensitive folks. We’re not sure what to call Indians anymore, but we’re pretty sure you’re not supposed to say, “Indian,” and we’re almost positive that you’re not supposed to say, “redskins.” So, why the blaring disconnect when it comes to sports?
According to Laurel Davis (The problems with Native American mascots. Multicultural Education. 2002.), American Indian iconography rates as the most popular category of images for use as team mascots in the
The origins of Native American iconography as team mascots dates back to 1894, “…at Carlisle Indian School, an off-reservation U.S government boarding school for American Indian students located in Carlisle, Pa.,” according to columnist, Michael Eshkibok. “Many young Indians never made it out of
But what is all of this protesting and litigation about? Proponents of the use of Native American mascots have held fast to their traditions. There is an overwhelming belief that their exploitation of Native American iconography is far from undignified. Rather, the inclusion of these images in athletic ceremonies only serves to pay tribute to the strength of Native Americans as a cultural entity.
How might we re-evaluate this situation if the image in question was that of an African warrior toting a spear, wearing a bone through his nose? It was not too long ago that the dominant society in the
Even when the use of Natives American imagery in sports is executed without malice, there is still a complete disregard by the dominant majority for the legitimacy of the indigenous cultures. At best, attempts to memorialize the bravery of Native American warriors detract from the fact that Native Americans are an extremely vital component of our present day American society. Instead, they are being viewed more as relics of an ancient past. Of course, this issue does not represent the worst effects that are perpetuated by the use of Native American images as mascots.
The very idea of categorizing a particular ethnicity as a mascot is literally making sport of that cultural identity. Such a mockery is both insulting, and extremely psychologically damaging. As Dr. Cornell Pewewardy insinuates in his article, “Why Educators Can’t Ignore Indian Mascots,” children are exposed to these images in their formative years. On one hand, you have members of the dominant community who are being taught to look down upon another community from an early age. On the other hand, you have members of the same age group within the indigenous community who are developing a sense of inferiority. When you put these issues together, you have a diabolical continuum, in which the Native American community is oppressed from both sides. Once the vicious cycle begins, it is difficult to slow its momentum.
Pewewardy suggests that the key to resolving the disparity between the dominant society and indigenous people lies in education. Educating children about cultural diversity at a very young age is essential. This would help avoid the severe, psychologically damaging effects on young members of Native American communities, minimizing the unhealthy disregard for minority cultures among youths who are submerged in the dominant culture. Such preventative measures might avert the proverbial ball from rolling.
Naturally, we cannot expect to wait for the solution to this issue to fall into our laps. It would be ideal to assume that future education could eliminate racism altogether. However, in all reality, it is necessary for activism to adopt a heavier role in the grand scheme of things. Normal individuals in extraordinary circumstances have proven to be very effective activists in the past. For example, as a single woman attending school at the
At this point, it is necessary to have a moment of pause. Tackling political issues can sometimes seem overwhelming, and it is important to acknowledge that, in order to be activists, we do not all have to be super-heroes, like Charlene Teeters. We can start small. We can begin by recognizing the problem. The real problem is not the Indian mascots. The real problem is rooted in the attitude of dominant society. Whether or not it is intentional, the truth of the matter is that dominant cultures cling to their dominance. Imposing stereotypes is a way of keeping control. It oppresses members of minority communities and prevents them from being competitive. There is an insensitivity to other cultures as we contend only with our desires to stay on top. If we dig a little bit deeper, we may see that this need to dominate and is based upon a fear of losing control. Only when we can see that we are all members of the same global community, will we learn to accept our individual differences.