This paper appeared in Multicultural Education, 6, No. 3, Spring 1999, p. 6.
Invented media images prevent millions of Americans from understanding the past and current authentic human experience of First Nations People. My opposition to the use of Indian mascots for sports teams has always been because these trappings and seasonal insults offend the intelligence of thousands of Indigenous Peoples in this country.
This article speaks to the American educator and discusses how, as educators, we are responsible for maintaining the ethics of teaching and for helping to eliminate racism in all aspects of school life. Therefore, the exploitation of Indian mascots becomes an issue of educational equity. What should educators know about the issues of American Indian mascots, logos, nicknames, and the tomahawk chop?
As someone who has spent his entire adult life teaching in and administrating elementary schools for Indigenous children, I see that the way Indian mascots are used today is about "dysconscious racism" and a form of cultural violence, which operates primarily at the psychological level. According to Joyce King (1991) and Gloria Ladson-Billings (1990), dysconscious racism is a form of racism4 that unconsciously accepts dominant white norms and privileges.
For example, if you have seen the racial antics and negative behaviors portrayed by Indian mascots hundreds of times for most of your life, you may become absolutely numb to their presence. That's dysconscious racism. The thousands of ways in which Indian mascots are used today in American sports culture is racist and should be eliminated, using education as the tool for liberation. However, I understand that many educators not familiar with equity issues are not equipped to teach such liberation.
Teachers should research the matter and discover that Indigenous Peoples would never have associated the sacred practices of becoming a warrior with the hoopla of a pep rally, half-time entertainment, or being a side-kick to cheerleaders. Even though it has become as American as apple pie and baseball, making fun of Indigenous Peoples at athletic events across the country is wrong!
Many schools around the country exhibit Indian mascots and logos, using nicknames and doing the tomahawk chops in sports stadiums through inauthentic representations of Indigenous cultures. Many school of ficials state or say they are honoring Indigenous Peoples and insist their schools' sponsored activities aren't offensive, but rather a compliment. I would argue otherwise.
There's nothing in Indigenous cultures that I'm aware of that aspires to be a mascot, logo, or nickname for athletic teams. It would be the same as a crowd of fans using real saints as mascots or having fans dressed up as the Pope (Lady Pope's or Nuns) at a New Orleans Saints football game and doing the "crucifix chop" to the musical accompaniment of Gregorian chants while wearing colorful religious attire in the stands. What would be the reaction of Catholics around the country if that happened?
The behavior to which I object makes a mockery of Indigenous cultural identity and causes many young Indigenous people to feel shame about who they are as human beings, because racial stereotypes play an important role in shaping a young person's consciousness. Subjective feelings, such as inferiority, are an integral part of consciousness, and work together with the objective reality of poverty and deprivation to shape a young person's worldview.
Beginning with Wild West shows and continuing with contemporary movies, television, and literature, the image of Indigenous Peoples has radically shifted away from any reference to living people toward a field of urban fantasy in which wish fulfillment replaces reality (Deloria, 1980). Schools should be places where students come to unlearn the stereotypes that such mascots represent.
So why do some teachers allow their students to uncritically adopt a cartoon version of Indigenous cultures through the use of a mascot portrayed by sports teams? Dennis (1981) contends that people engage in racist behavior because they are reasonably sure that there is support for it within their society. Their cultural lens, for example, may be highly ethnocentric; yet no distortions are perceived in the field of vision.
To understand why this is racist, consider how euphemisms and code words for ethnic persons and groups are used: scalp, massacre, redskin, squaw, noble savage, papoose, Pocahontas, Cherokee princess. Bosmajian (1983) explains that while the state and church as institutions have defined the Indians into subjugation, there has been in operation the use of a suppressive language by socieTy at large which has perpetuated the dehumanization of Indigenous Peoples. The English language includes various phrases and words which relegate the Indigenous Peoples to an inferior status: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian"; "Indian Giver"; "drunken Indians," "dumb Indians," and "Redskins."6 These words represent a new generation of ethnic slurs that are replacing the older, more blatant and abusive nicknames (Allen, 1990; Moore, 1976).
Children's self images are very impressionable, pliable, and susceptible to external forces, especially if they are steeped in violent and negative images (Fleming, 1996; Rouse & Hanson, 1991; Madsen & Robbins, 1981; Pushkin & Veness, 1973). They also respond accordingly to the respect they are shown with regard to their individuality, including their ethnicity and/or race (Paley, 1989). Unfortunately, for Indigenous Peoples, many false images of ethnicity still dominate the consciousness of the American psyche.
Howard (1983) asserts that in the American psyche, Indigenous People have fulfilled their historical mission. They existed to provide a human challenge to whites as they marched across the continent. Their resistance provided the stuff of myths of conquest and glory. Moreover, I have found that many ethnic images have been manufactured and created in the image of other racial groups. The manufactured "savage," "pagan," "retarded," "culturally deprived," non-European is the flipside of the European civilization myth. To affect ethnic images is to distort reality while creating a new and seductive reality of its own. Students in schools cannot be expected to understand the realities of modern American life and the prospect for future generations without understanding the popular images of the past and the present.
The portrayal of Indigenous Peoples in sports takes many forms. Some teams use generic Indigenous names, such as Indians, Braves, or Chiefs, while others adopt specific tribal names like Seminoles, Cherokees, or Apaches. Indian mascots exhibit either idealized or comical facial features and "native" dress ranging from body-length feathered (usually turkey) headdresses to more subtle fake buckskin attire or skimpy loincloths. Some teams and supporters display counterfeit Indigenous paraphernalia, including tomahawks, feathers, face paints, symbolic drums and pipes. They will also use mock-Indigenous behaviors, such as the "tomahawk chop," dances, chants, drumbeating, war-whooping, and symbolic scalping.
So-called Indian mascots reduce hundreds of Indigenous tribal members to generic cartoon characters. These "Wild West" figments of the white imagination distort both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children's attitudes toward an oppressed- and diverse-minority. The Indigenous portrait of the moment may be bellicose, ludicrous, or romantic, but almost never is the portrait we see of Indian mascots a real person (Stedman, 1982). Most children in America do not have the faintest idea that "Indigenous Peoples" are real human beings because of such portrayals.
The contradictory views of Indigenous Peoples, sometimes gentle and good and sometimes terrifying and evil, stem from Euro-America's ambivalence toward a race of people they attempted to destroy. For example, today, the perceptions and negative images of Indigenous Peoples by the American macroculture is a part of the history of the motion picture portrayals, which evolved from stereotypes created by the earliest settlers and chroniclers of this country. The treatment of Indigenous Peoples in the movies is the final expression of white America's attempt to cope with its uneasiness in the face of unconscious cultural guilt (Bataille & Silet, 1980).
Francis (1992) advocates that the Indian began as a white man's mistake, and became a white man's fantasy, because of white guilt, white fear, and white insecurity. Deloria (1994) asks the question "where did Westerners get their ideas of divine right to conquest, of manifest destiny, of themselves as the vanguard of true civilization, if not from Christianity?" Having tied itself to history and maintained that its god controlled that history, Christianity must accept the consequences of its past.
Furthermore, I contend that American racism as we inherit it today is the social construction of reality. Racism is the primary form of cultural domination in America over the past four hundred years. Prior to Columbus, what is known as the new world functioned for millennia without the race construct as we understand it today (Stiffarm & Lane, 1992; Mohawk, 1992). According to Banton(1998),the pre-Columbian European explorers in the Pacific had only fleeting contacts with the islanders , who often received them in friendship. Their accounts were favorable. However, European writing inspired by these accounts went further and built the myth of the Noble Savage. This was of importance politically, for to believe that the savage is noble is to believe than man is naturally good. If evil does not have its origin in human nature, it must spring from the faulty organization of society.
In this context, Indigenous Peoples stood as the cipher for everything that was pristine and sublime. This fascination and its attendant desire for otherness was used by European intellectuals as an emblem that escaped the emotional and intellectual shackles of modernity. These notions of exotic innocence are no less stereotypical than the idea that Indigenous People are less civilized and more barbaric. Solomos and Back (1996) contend that this kind of identification is locked within the discourse of absolute difference which renders Indians exotic and reaffirms Indigenous Peoples as a "race apart." It was this danger which Frantz Fanon outlined when he argued that those Europeans who blindly adore the difference of the other are as racially afflicted as those who vilify it (Fanon, 1986).
According to Solomos and Back (1996), Darwinian arguments in favor of heredity and variation challenged the idea of the fixity of species, but by the late 19th and early 20th centuries themes derived from Darwin were used in debates about race in a variety of national contexts. This was evident, for example, in the popularity of Social Darwinism and of Eugenics during this period (Mosse, 1985; Dengler, 1991). We are well aware of the consequences of this theory upon our times. Genovese (1989) advocates that with the appearance of Darwinism, racism - or at least white racism - took a new course: "many white people were quite enthusiastic about Darwinism because, proclaiming the survival of the fittest, it confirmed their policy of expansion and aggression at the expense of the inferior peoples (p. 158)."
Gould (1996) contends that this construct came from Darwinian theory. Social scientists and other students of group life have furthered these ideas throughout the 20th century and much of their work has been used by the mass media. Together with schools, legal systems, and higher education institutions, these forces participate in a major way in legitimizing and reifying this invalid construct - the romanticized image of Indigenous Peoples. Consequently, race as a construct is now internalized by the world's masses. All these voices together have helped to perpetuate this ignorance and distortion.
The primary issue in American racism is hegemony.7 I agree with Hilliard (1997) and Kane (1996) that racism is a mental illness. It is mental illness because it is a socially constructed system of beliefs created by advocates and inventors of hegemonic systems. It is a precursor to mental illness, among ethnic minorities, because it requires that the individual function with the academic falsification of their human record, distortion of cultural identity, and delusions of grandeur about white supremacy (Novick, 1995).
Tinker (1993) asserts that even many Indigenous Peoples have internalized this illusion just as deeply as white Americans have, and as a result they discover from time to time just how fully Indigenous People participate today in their own oppression. At the ideological level, racism's link to mental illness requires continued systemic study and at the applied level, massive financial resources toward the deconstruction of the European colonial mindset need to be devoted to the structuring of domination. Conflicting ideological components, such as a defense of racial exploitation on one hand, or an assertion of racial equality on the other, must depend in part for their effectiveness upon a degree of correspondence with that ongoing construction (Sexton, 1990).
Today, as a teacher educator, I show future teachers why Indian mascots are one cause for low self-esteem in Indigenous children. This is the point where this issue becomes detrimental to the academic achievement of students in school. To make my point clear, I point to the American Indian Mental Health Association of Minnesota's (1992) position statement supporting the total elimination of Indian mascots and logos from schools:"As a group of mental health providers, we are in agreement that using images of American Indians as mascots, symbols, caricatures, and namesakes for non-Indian sports teams, businesses, and other organizations is damaging to the self- identity, self-concept, and self-esteem of our people. We should like to join with others who are taking a strong stand against this practice."
Most of the resolutions to eliminate negative ethnic images came from grassroots people, mostly Indigenous parents. Resolutions to ban Indian mascots and logos from schools have also been drafted by American Indian organizations like the National Indian Education Association, Kansas Association for Native American Education, Wisconsin Indian Education Association, and Minnesota Indian Education Association. Other groups that have passed resolutions to ban Indian mascots and logos include the National Education Association, Governor's Interstate Indian Council8, United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council in Wisconsin, Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, National Congress of American Indians, American Indian Movement, National Rainbow Coalition, NAACP, and the Center for the Study of Sports in Society.
More recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has issued a statement supporting the elimination of Indian names and mascots as symbols for their member institutions' sports teams (Charles Whitcomb, 1998). Yet these strong voices seemingly speak to deaf ears. As a result, the continued exoticization of people of color, particularly Indigenous Peoples, has been used to justify the control of entire communities (Kivel, 1996).
Because the powerful messages from state and national organizations have been ignored, the question must be asked: why do racial slurs in the form of Indian mascots and logos remain? I believe that the hidden agenda behind their use is about annihilation, both cultural and spiritual, and about intellectual exploitation. Therefore, the real issues are about power and control. These negative ethnic images are driven by those that want to define other ethnic groups and control their images in order to have people believe that their truth is the absolute truth.
Furthermore, it's the ability to define a reality and to get other people to affirm that reality as if it were their own. Remember that media commercials are carefully designed and expensively produced to stereotype groups and help us, as consumers, "realize" we are far less intelligent than we should be. This is an additive systemic approach to power and control.
Even new books about power and control such as Greene's (1998) The 48 Laws of Power, this season's most talked- about all purpose personal-strategy guide and philosophical compendium, talk about economic indicators of success. Greene sets out to codify "the timeless essence of power," much as the great Florentine thinker Machiavelli did half a millennium ago in The Prince. Machiavelli never stooped to dispense mere get-rich-quick advice, and neither does Greene. Law 15 in Greene's The 48 Laws of Power reads:
Adler (1998) asserts that his rules are couched as grand abstractions about human nature "always say less than necessary," "assume formlessness," "pose as a friend, work as a spy." Adams (1995) contends that the easiest way to oppress the colonized is by keeping them weak, too weak to upset the system, but strong enough to fulfill their lowly role as menial workers to support the economy of corporate rulers.
Crush your enemy totally. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.
Through the politics of colonization, Indigenous Peoples were socialized into stereotypes of being seen as inferior, stupid, and lazy, thereby fulfilling the need to be everybody's mascot. This list of stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples are well known (i.e., University of Illinois' Chief Illinawic, Oklahoma's Eskimo Joes, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, Land of Lakes Butter, Jeep Cherokee, Pocahontas, etc. ).
While the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State University Seminoles, Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savages, Wichita North High School Redskins, and many more academic institutions have resisted the pressure to change, scores of colleges, universities, and high school teams have adopted new names over the years. Stanford changed from Indians to the Cardinal. Dartmouth changed from Indians to The Big Green. Ohio's Miami University Redskins became the Red Hawks. If these colleges and universities can change, so can other educational institutions. In the Big Ten Conference, the University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota athletic departments established policy that banned out-of-conference competition with universities that use Indian mascots names and logos, e.g., Marquette Warriors, who recently changed their name to Golden Eagles.
Several newspapers, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Seattle Times, Portland Oregonian, have instituted new policy on the use of racist overtones and words, such as "Redskin" in its reporting, particularly of sports events. Moreover, some radio announcers and stations will not use racially insulting words over the air.
Some large school districts across the nation (i.e., Dallas Public Schools, Los Angeles Public Schools) have eliminated Indian mascots from their school districts as the result of active advocacy parent and education groups working closely with school officials. Wisconsin and Minnesota have mandated that publicly funded schools not use mascots, names, or logos that have been deemed offensive to Indigenous Peoples.
While some colleges, universities, high schools, and middle schools have dropped their racially insulting Indian mascots and logos, no professional sports team has felt enough heat or, perhaps, has enough conscience or respect to take a similar step. However, the Washington Wizards succumbed to political pressure and changed their name from the Bullets to the Wizards, which suggests that changes are possible at this level. Change should be possible without the unsightful alumni and student backlashes that smear Indigenous complainants as activists or militants - even as politically correct minorities. This is apparently not consistent with the current fad of being "politically correct."
Negative imagery of Indigenous Peoples has been around for more than a century. However, the more serious controversy regarding it did not emerge until the past two decades. During this period, there has been a growing Indigenous consciousness and grass-roots transformation, while at the same time the general public and media have become more alert to the rapidly growing ethnic awareness and diversification of society. Consequently, racism in its overt and subtle forms has encountered greater resistance from the "politically correctness" movement of recent years.
Most states make a commitment to provide the best public education for every student. The issue of equity is an important component of that commitment to educational excellence, ensuring access, treatment, opportunity, and outcomes for all students, based on objective assessment of each individual students' needs and abilities. Requirements and support for equity come from the state Legislature, the federal government, the private sector, community organizations, parents, school boards, and school district staff members.
Given this foundation, many of the issues pertaining to negative Indian mascots and logos displayed in programs and activities in schools comes under the category of "discrimination." The discrimination prohibition applies to: curricular programs, extracurricular activities, pupil services, recreational programs, and other (e.g., use of facilities, food service). While most states prohibit discrimination against students, many initial Indian mascots and logos complainants are dismissed as irrelevant by school officials, thereby one must follow a process of filing an official complaint as an "aggrieved person" (i.e., a student or parent of student who has been negatively affected) who is a resident of the school district.
Every pubic school district is required to have a complaint procedure adopted by the school board for residents to use. Some complainants of Indian mascots and logos have additionally filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, basing their discrimination on the student's sex, race, handicap, color, or national origin.
Understanding the contemporary images, perceptions, and myths of Indigenous Peoples is extremely important not only for Indigenous Peoples, but also for mainstream America. Most images of Indigenous Peoples have been burned into the global consciousness by fifty years of mass media. It was the Hollywood screen writers who helped to create the "frontier myth" image of Indigenous People today. It was, moreover, a revelation that had gone largely unrecorded by the national media and unnoticed by a public that still sees Indigenous Peoples mainly through deeply xenophobic eyes and the mythic veil of mingled racism and romance. Each new generation of popular culture has, therefore, reinvented their Indian mascot in the image of its own era.
Those of us that advocate for the elimination of mascots of Indigenous Peoples appreciate the courage, support, and sometimes the sacrifice, of all people who stand with us by speaking out and drafting resolutions against the continued use of Indian mascots in schools. When you advocate for the removal of these mascots and logos, you strengthen the spirit of tolerance and social justice in your community as well as model pluralism for all children. You provide a powerful teaching moment that can help to deconstruct the fabricated images and misconceptions of Indigenous Peoples that most school-age children have burned into their psyche by the American media.
If your team name were the Pittsburgh Negroes, Kansas City Jews, Redding Redskins, Houston Hispanics, Chicago Chicanos, Orlando Orientals, or Washington Whities, and someone from those communities found the invented name, stereotyped labels, and ethnic symbols associated with it offensive and asked that it be changed, would you not change the name? If not, why not? Let us further "honor" these groups with demeaning caricatures of a rabbi in a flowing robe, a Black Sambo image, a mascot who would run around in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. It's a mix of racism with sports enthusiasm under the guise of team spirit. Vickers (1998) asserts that Indigenous writers, artists, and activists on all fronts would be sure to condemn all the noxious stereotypes implied above.
I have made several points in this article and my previous messages to educators. Educators need to educate themselves about Indigenous Peoples and their communities. Doing so will help them see that as long as such negative mascots and logos remain within the arena of school activities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children are learning to tolerate racism in schools (Munson, personal communication, 1998). That's what children see at school and on television. As a result, schools only reinforce the images projected by popular culture (LaRocque, 1998). This is precisely what sports teams with mascots and logos of Indigenous Peoples teach children - that it is "acceptable" racism to demean a race or group of people through American sports culture.
Finally. I challenge educators to provide the intellectual leadership that will teach a critical perspective and illuminate the cultural violence associated with Indian mascots used in schools. Inaction in the face of racism is racism. As culturally responsive educators, we must understand that "enslaved minds cannot teach liberation."
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