Is Native American imagery of sports mascots racist?
Published: Friday, November 5, 2010
Updated: Friday, November 5, 2010 03:11
What is in a name? A name is something an individual identifies with, a title. A name can tell you a lot about a person or group. Because names hold so much meaning, the use of Native American imagery, particularly in sports mascots, is wrong and needs to be banned.
For many years, different groups of Native Americans have been fighting for racist and discriminatory Native American nicknames and their use as mascots to be banned. One winning battle occurred in April 2010 when the University of North Dakota (UND) was ordered to change its team name, the Fighting Sioux. It was a four year battle between UND and the NCAA. In the end, UND was unable to gather enough support from Indian reservations in the area and will have to change its name and logo by Nov. 30 of this year. We believe the NCAA made a wise decision; therefore, why are other institutions, such as the Washington Redskins, unable or unwilling to change their names?
Using the names of these specific people is not showing honor or respect; instead, it is hurtful, degrading and misleading. Names such as the Redskins, Fighting Sioux, the Warriors and the Braves are well-known sports teams and school mascots. By using these names the portrayed images we see are negative and false. It is important that we show and teach the truth of all people and not mislead or misdirect peoples' idea of Native Americans. We believe we should get rid of Native American-related mascots and show that there can be mascots that do not hurt or degrade any one type of person. It has happened with some institutions before; therefore it should not be too difficult for others to follow and make the much-needed name change.
One argument is that there are more than 900 high school, college and pro teams that use American Indian-related images to pump up players, fire up crowds and sell t-shirts. Therefore, it would be too difficult to change all the names, right? Although it would be a long process, it would be beneficial to the population as a whole because Native Americans would no longer be represented, at least in the sports world, as uncivilized.
"‘Redskin' is the most derogatory word you can use to describe a Native American," said Bill Means, founder of the International Indian Treaty Council.
The term originates from the bounty hunting days, when colonies and companies would pay settlers for dead American Indians. Scalps, called "redskins," were used as trophies and proof because it was too difficult to carry the entire body. In some cases male scalps could be bought for 80 cents, female scalps for 60 cents and children for even less. Why is this heinous action celebrated by representing a professional sports team?
To make matters worse, Native Americans are the only minority group to be denigrated as sports mascots. By allowing these subtle jabs at an entire population, we perpetuate the demeaning stereotypes that go with it. Do we really want our children to see all Native Americans as naked, spear throwing, warrior-savages? Perpetuating that image demeans each of us, and trivializes the contribution that Native Americans made in being the first pioneers to colonize the U.S.
There are no other minority groups represented as mascots, especially by use of racial terms. Columnist Michael Tomasky said it best: "Obviously, no one would name a team the Washington N-----s . . . ." Why then are derogatory words for Native Americans used to represent sports teams?
Some teams have stepped up to the plate before, usually not by choice, and changed their mascots to something much more pleasing and socially acceptable, but the Redskins refuse to even consider changing their name. As anthropology students, in the class Social Constructions of Race, we identify the meaning these derogatory names hold and their significance in our world today and plead to the Washington Redskins and the other 900+ teams with similar names to change their team names to something more respectable, honorable and appropriate.
What's wrong with a name that represents your city? How about the Washington Redskins change their name to, like the NHL team, the Washington Capitals?