What if racism is our most enduring "tradition"?
Today I am thinking about mascots. For the first time in my ever, Washington NFL team owner has finally agreed to have a conversation about the mascot which is clearly a racist slur. The Cleveland baseball team is in the process of rethinking Indians as well. It's about damn time.
Team owner Dan Snyder, who has previously resisted changing a name that many find offensive to Native Americans, said: "This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field."
NB: Dan Snyder is now and has always been a dick. And can we just giggle at this man talking about the history and tradition of a franchise that dates back to 1932 should somehow be treated more reverently than the history of the actual country? I mean. It's football. It's entertainment. It's not serious or important. Well, no use appealing to his heart or mind. Snyder only reacts to appeals to his wallet.
In Friday's announcement, Washington head coach Ron Rivera said, "This issue is of personal importance to me and I look forward to working closely with Dan Snyder to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military."
Wait - the mission of an NFL team is to honor and support Native Americans and our Military? That's weird. I thought they just wanted to win the Superbowl and be mean girls to Colin Kaepernick.
So let's talk about Indian mascots.
First Columbus was not so bright and kind of a bad navigator. Indians are what he called the natives he encountered in the Caribbean because he had no idea where he was. Second, he never met the indigenous peoples of North America, because he was NEVER HERE. This bears repeating. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS NEVER SET FOOT IN NORTH AMERICA. Does that blow your mind? Could someone explain why we hold him up as an American folk hero? It should also be mentioned that he was a pretty evil bastard and it's time to stop the ill considered reverence for this guy.
Second it is dehumanizing to use a race or any other human grouping as a mascot. We instinctively know that we can't have The Blacks, or The Asians or The Jews as a mascot. This is the same situation. Just because you don't know any Native Americans because your ancestors nearly genocided them out of existence doesn't mean that this is okay. There's a great article about this very thing by Suit Up Maine here, the whole thing is worth a read, but let me sum up. There are ten basic arguments that people use, not only to defend a problematic mascot but they are also used to defend confederate statues, the Confederate battle flag, misogyny, homophobia, racism, hate and ignorance.
- The Mascot honors our state's tribes. Ummmm. Actually, no. Most tribes don't see it that way. There are notable exceptions. Florida State Seminoles and Central Michigan Chippewas.
- It's our tradition.
- I'm Irish and I don't have an issue with Notre Dame's mascot, how is that different? Well if you assume it is a person, not a Leprechaun, characterizing all Irish as belligerent drunks IS kind of a problem.
- One time a Native American said they liked our mascot. Okay, we'll call this one the Kanye principle. Or the Hitler principle. There has never been a race election for the humans of the world to elect their single race spokesperson. You know why? Because that's stupid. No single person can speak for an entire race.
- Where will it end? We will have to change everything, EVERYTHING! Ok, no. But if everything IS problematic, then maybe yes.
- It doesn't harm anybody. Yes it does. They have been saying it for years.
- Replacing everything is too expensive. There are ways to get grants. There are ways to do these things over time. Shut up, you're getting really petty and also valuing your dollars over another's dignity is kinda gross, really. *See Dan Snyder above. Don't be a Dan Snyder.
- If you don't live here, you don't get to tell me what to do. Well I would say that the Native Americans who used to live wherever here is, might have standing on this one.
- We got rid of the headdress guy years ago, isn't that enough? No. It's not. The racist cosplay is equivalent to blackface and I think we all get that that's not a thing that is good. But not doing the worst thing you can do doesn't mean you are #bebest.
- Don't you have more important things to worry about? Yes. And we are doing this all at the same time. Everyone can do it. I mean how else could the President fight a pandemic, fend of fa depression AND protect Confederate statues? Oh, wait. Bad example. This is just one way you can push off uncomfortable change indefinitely. Don't fall for it.
Number two is worth more reflection. Tradition. Calling something tradition is a way to protect it from critical analysis. This is the way we've always done it, so it is obviously fine. Since basically no one wants Americans visiting right now, let's virtually travel to Australia, to learn more about the evils the "tradition" argument conceals.
So, Americans, let's be done with this now. Let's stop dressing the kids as pilgrims and "Indians" at Thanksgiving and pretend they ate dinner together and everything was just fine -- even though it's our "tradition" to whitewash history to keep from scaring the children or feeling anything but pride for 'Murica the belligerently ignorant. We can be better. We just have to choose to be.