A reader writes:
I find the whole controversy about mascots and team names to be a little ridiculous. While I can understand the hurt feelings, as a white guy, I am probably the last person who should tell other people how to feel. But what gives power to these issues are Native Americans reaction to them. An intramural team in Northern Colorado picked an intentionally insulting name to prove a point (the Fighting Whites) and it backfired. I personally thought it was hilarious, and was going to order one of the shirts, but they were sold out! I never did follow up, but apparently they are still for sale. The best thing they could do is probably ignore the whole issue.
Another has a very different perspective:
Thank you for bringing attention to the mascot issue – it’s wonderful to hear opinions aired on both sides that are measured and reasonable, as opposed to the comments one encounters in the various articles in the Washington Post and other places that have covered this controversy.
First, a bit of a reveal. I’m actually one of the plaintiffs in the Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc. case that was recently heard in the from the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board, so I’ve staked out my position on this issue. I wanted to touch on an aspect of the debate that hasn’t quite been aired out yet, and that’s more of a personal reflection. I spent much of my childhood growing up on an Indian reservation and am a member of a federally recognized tribe and have family in two other tribes through my father.
I was raised by both parents to be proud of my background, and I participate in a wide variety of cultural and religious activities. Spending much of my time on the reservation or places where Native people are more common than most places (the Mountain West and Oklahoma), I was in a bubble. I was certainly exposed to attitudes and stereotypes about Indians growing up, but these attitudes were easily dismissed because the people who held them were clearly bigots. When I left the reservation for school, however, I was exposed to a much more insidious perception. Most people haven’t met a Native person, and even those who have tend to have little idea that the person they’re interacting with is Native. Most people’s ideas of what Native people represent are shaped by popular culture. And much of what is spewed out by popular culture is wrong, disrespectful and sometimes plainly racist.
In school I was often asked about where my feathers were, where I kept my “Indian costume,” why my hair wasn’t long, and if I lived in a tipi. I was asked to “talk Indian”, and when I competed in sports people would call out to me on the field with “Indian” whoops taken from the chants of the Redskins and bad Spaghetti Westerns.
At first, this didn’t bother me much, as my identity of who I was and where I came from is pretty strong. Clearly it bothers me a lot more now that I’m older as it has become clear that these questions come from Indians’ lack of control with regard to their own image and identity. And pop culture shapes Native youths’ perceptions of themselves and where they come from. I can’t think of any other culture that the American majority culture gets to explicitly exploit and slap on the side of a product to sell something more than Native people. The Land O’ Lakes lady, the logo on the side of the Redskins’ helmets, and pretty soon Johnny Depp with a dead bird on his head are what many people are going to think of when they think “Indian.”
Nothing illustrated this to me more than my own son who just finished the 1st grade in a place dominated mostly by Redskins fans. My son is a kid of the world – his roots come from my family’s three different tribes, my grandmother’s Okie-Irish heritage, and his mom’s mix of Korean, African American and Wampanoag. If you asked him “what he was” he would probably tell you a bit about all sides of his family and self-identify as Native as we’ve raised him as best we could far from the reservation in our family traditions and cultural heritage. When his friends ask him why he doesn’t look like the Redskin logo, he struggled to answer. He then started wondering why momma didn’t look like the lady on the side of the butter container. He’s bothered that when his hair grows long it isn’t straight like daddy’s, but is curly like his mom’s. The effects of mainstream culture that thinks it has a good idea of what an Indian looks like and does have already started to plant seeds of doubt as to his own authenticity, and this is something he’ll struggle with much of his life until he comes to terms with his identity.
These are major issues, but as a parent I’m glad I get to set him and his friends straight and equip him with the tools to live a world that materializes and misappropriates almost everything about our culture. But why do we tolerate this materialization and misappropriation of Native culture to the extent that we do? There a lot of good reasons to fight alongside Amanda Blackhorse in the Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc. case, and your readers have aired out a lot of them. But for me the fight is personal, represented by own experience and perhaps most importantly by the experience my son and his children will have.
Thanks for the chance to air this out. I’m a long-time reader who rarely gets to air anything out with any kind of authority. Also – good job on putting more “read more” stories out there – my frustration at being unable to follow the mascot thread inspired me to sign up for my monthly subscription, and given how much I read the Dish, I would have given more but I am a poor graduate student at the moment so my $1.99 a month will have to suffice until this degree pays off.