Cultural Imperialist

"Scathing Spats on Shallow Subjects"


Mon Aug 21




Sports Mascot Mess – An Ethnic Quandary

If your local sports team mascot is dressed like an Indian and you're offended by it, you might be.... a Red-- Man? Yes, the bill recently passed by the Wisconsin legislature and expected to be signed by Gov. Jim Doyle gives Native Americans and other ethnically-skinned peoples an official channel of grievance against the nearly 40 schools and universities in the state sporting a spiffy Sioux or Menominee mascot (there are about a dozen tribes hailing from the Cheese State) and name.

It's a slippery slope. On the one hand, co-opting a symbol in an effort to promote common affiliation is itself an essentially tribal act, a matter of local pride in competitive endeavors. But while there may be nothing inherently racist about choosing an Indian as your trademark on the field, the issue appears to be rooted in more than one's ancestry, or else we'd see a lot more teams whose mascots resemble Woody Allen or Italian plumbers. To put it bluntly, you would never see a team named the Nashville Negroes or the Texas Towelheads, or the New York Jewboys. But give it up for the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins.

Then again, if a team named itself the Fighting Whiteys, the South might rise again, but not before the ACLU filed a suit on grounds of fomenting nascent Nazism.

Obviously, teams wishing to instill fear in their opponents and inspire confidence in their fans want to present themselves as strong and intimidating warriors. Hence, the Warriors or the Hawkeyes or the Seminoles as opposed to the Tax Accountants or the Pasty British White Guys.

The name itself is only one aspect of this particular debate. In some cases, the visual representation of these teams may cause offense. Such a reaction is not surprising if your mascot looks like a pre-civil-rights racist caricature.

It might be me, but I'm not sure this bill goes far enough. After all, what about corporations whose name stems from ethnic roots? Oneida, for instance, is an Indian tribe, though you wouldn't know it from their wonderful flatware specials. And let's not fail to call attention to Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois, Alaska, Alabama, Michigan, and oh, half a dozen other states whose names derive from Indian tribes who may or may not have been consumed in white man's apocalyptic expansion. And what about sports teams that have co-opted other peoples and civilizations to represent their fearsomeness on the field of mock battle? The Trojans, the Spartans, the Fighting Irish and the Aztecs are all victims of this possible racism.

The truth is, this bill may be the first strike against any and all ethnic team names and mascots; once you name names, the domino effect ensures a chain of more ludicrous legislative actions to prevent any and all from experiencing the slightest sense of cultural disenfranchisement as a result of seeing one's ethnic or national heritage used as a chant in a basketball game. And if taken to its logical ends, we will be left with nothing but neutered images and undefinable shapes and organic blobs as our symbolic warriors, offensive to none, and therefore acceptable to all.

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