Monday, June 13, 2011

Racism in Team Names (Read: I'm Sick of LeBron Talk) [Mondays with Gus]

There is a myth among many American sports fans that needs to be addressed. This is the myth that naming your team after some group of people is somehow a compliment to that group. I'm speaking of course about teams like The Cleveland Indians, The Atlanta Braves, and most especially The Washington Redskins. There's nothing honorable about the naming of these teams. The Redskins are essentially the equivalent of the Washington N-Word. I'm not saying that we have to go around pleasing everybody, but I am saying that by allowing this to happen we make ourselves look, as a sports fan base, like bigots.

As a social experiment, I would like to see a few team names and mascots changed a bit. The Houston Texans are a prime example. Since Texas has such major issues among it's people (awful education system and obesity to name a few) I think their team should reflect that. I would like to see their mascot change into a fat illiterate that goes around telling people how awesome Texans are, even when they're getting destroyed (as the Texans often do). Maybe he or she can be holding a book upside down while yelling about the “liberal media” or illegal immigration. While we're at it, why not change the Washington Redskins into the Washington Rednecks? If we're allowed to stereotype American Indians, why shouldn't we be allowed to stereotype white people?

There is a precedent for this. An intramural team in Colorado once named their team “The Fightin' Whites” and had a tag line of “Every Thang's Gonna Be All White!!!” The controversy landed all over the news, including CNN. This is the kind of thing that tested the waters of controversial names without tagging it to a large institution that could end up being boycotted/punished. That's great and everything, but it's time to end use of the Redskins and Indians as a mascot. Here's why:

Indians/Chief Wahoo: This one has the least insulting name, but the most insulting mascot. For starters, he falls into many of the American Indian stereotypes and insults. He's bright red, has a big nose, and a huge mouth. The big mouth is a subtle jab at how terrified settlers were of the Indian war cry. They were considered by some to be too loud and rambunctious to be civilized, and the huge mouth hints at that awful commentary. The feather sticking out of the back of his head is wrong as well. They were usually hanging down, or a full headdress with feathers if the person were actually a chief. To rephrase one of the smartest complaints I've read about Chief Wahoo: What the hell is he so happy about, anyway? 80% of his people were killed in 50 years, land taken away, children sent to foreign boarding schools and punished for using their native languages, and every attempt at peace ignored by the settlers. But it's cool, Cleveland. Go ahead and make him a happy red faced idiot with a giant grin on his face in front of his inaccurate headdress.

Redskins: This is awful mostly because of the name. Redskins? Really? I would like to see the Cleveland [insert white stereotype] take on the Washington N-Words and see how people react to that. Maybe the White people's mascot could be an arrogant, war mongering moron who only knows one language (like the global stereotype). The only reason we are allowed as a society to do this to American Indians is because they aren't as numerous and wealthy as white people, or as well organized as the black community.

A lot of people are going to get up in arms about this, saying that free speech is a part of America and we should be allowed to say what we want. I'm not arguing against free speech. In fact, I value free speech incredibly because my parents were born in a country that doesn't have it (Palestine). My point here is that we should be worried that people see us as bigots because we sometimes act like it. Violent and bigoted names have been changed in the past with little consequence (Syracuse Orange, Washington Wizards, etc). Eliminating a few bigoted names is not enough. We should aim to eliminate them all. It's time we stop sounding like a guy that says “But I hardly beat my wife at all anymore!” and say that we're man (or woman) enough to admit when we're being bigots.

-Gus Rafeedie


  1. It would be interesting to get some perspective on why people would name their team after a group of people whom they (whether consciously or subconsciously) have dehumanized. Is it that people wish to associate their sports, an often brute and primordial event (I'm talking to you, boxing!), with those for whom they feel "brute and primordial" is the default mode? It's like saying, well, when I'm wearing the jersey, I can act like an asshole - and we could dissect how the entitlement mentality of some sports personalities leads to debauchery of the most "uncivilized" kind - but when I'm not in the ring / on the court / on the field, the full moon goes down, and I'm once again part of the appropriately genteel, cultivated world?

    Plus, what about the concept of the ironic homage? But look, we named our whole TEAM after you! We're HONORING your people by doing this! Yeah, I've seen false homage before, gang, and it ends in a thorny crown and nails.

    There is a (very enlightened) professor in my small, NE Ohio liberal arts college who would not admit students to her class if they were wearing any Indians paraphernalia. For this reason, some people rabidly HATED her; they took her dislike for the overt racism of the mascot as some kind of slight about the team, and by extension, the entire Buckeye state. They were bizarrely invested in Chief Wahoo. Why would anyone vehemently defend their right to be unabashedly racist? Is it personal? Does it somehow negate part of our history to want to eradicate the shameful parts (kind of like how they don't really teach WWII in Japanese schools)? Are people's identities so inextricably linked into their preferred sports franchises that they feel attacked when others start messing with the mascots (even the horribly racist ones)?

    It's hard to relinquish the power of subjugation; I understand why the wealthy, white, male teams owners don't wish to mess with their teams' logos. To do so would give WAY too much power to the groups who can look at Chief Wahoo / Notre Dame / The Braves and be continually reminded of their place in American society.

  2. Gus, via Rachel KasaJune 14, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Gus asked me to post this response for him:

    "For some reason, I can't comment on the blog. I will comment here, though.1. Very good point about dehumanizing. Chief Wahoo hardly looks like a person at all (odd eyes, massive mouth). The plains Indians only had one letter where their lips touched (letter M), so when they spoke English, it sounded very forced. Instead of saying "Lakota" or "Conshohocken" they would be saying things that make them sound dumb. Not because they were, but because of language barriers. This was another reason to act like they aren't as human. They can hardly even speak like humans! Ugh. 2. Ironic Homage: Name a team the Raging White Trash Hillbillies and see how white people respond. But, the trick is the team gets to play in Africa.

    "And, I'm OK with what the professor did. Free speech isn't as important as love and compassion, so I would probably tend to take her side, though not rabidly. At this point, I would like to see these things change just so that people in America can learn to cleanse themselves of previous acts. It's such a refreshing thing that nobody really truly hates doing."