The Cleveland Indians announced this week that they will phase out their “Chief Wahoo” logo from their uniforms beginning in 2019. Despite this, they will not surrender the trademark and will still be able to profit from merchandise bearing the logo.
According to Major League Baseball officials, the popular logo is no longer appropriate for use on the field. In my opinion, that’s long overdue but it isn’t enough. Fans will still be able to buy their red-faced mascot’s merchandise and wear it at games. They should do more and stop production of the racist caricature in all capacities. The problem of racist imagery in sports is not a new controversy. Native American activist groups have been fighting against sporting teams promoting racism since the 1970s.
I know what some sports fans are saying—”We’re celebrating their culture! I personally know Native American people who say that it’s not offensive.”
First of all—no. Native American mascots trivialize issues that real natives face and dresses them up as relics of the past. A hashtag on Twitter explains how many native people feel. I urge you to log into the app and search #notyourmascot. The majority is not here to speak over the minority, and one person whom you happen to know does not speak for an entire culture.
If someone who directly is affected by a symbol says that it is racist, it is. Symbols hold power. There is a display in our own Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia dedicated to racist Native American caricatures. Someone who I was talking to just the other day about the MLB decision said, “Well, it’s not as bad as the Washington Redskins.”
According to the Webster Dictionary, the word “redskin” is “a contemptuous term referring to a North American Indian.” We are using a literal slur for the name of a football team based in Washington D.C. in 2018. Let that sink in.
Sporting groups adopted Native American nicknames and mascots even when regulations prohibited Native Americans from speaking their languages, practicing their religions or voting as American citizens. That is not celebratory or harmless.
Any team that parades caricatures of native culture and receives financial gain from its use is wrong. You are not honoring natives by donning red face paint and wearing war bonnets at tailgates. Nostalgia is not an excuse to hang on to institutionalized racism in sports.
There have been empirical studies that have found the use of native mascots is harmful, especially to native youth. In “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots,” studies found that mascots like Chief Wahoo negatively impact native youths’ self-esteem and community worth because these mascots do not convey positive images of Native Americans in today’s society. These mascots are dehumanizing.
Yes, Chief Wahoo might be on the way out but we have to do more. That’s not enough. We are not here to bargain with racism but rather denounce it when it comes to our attention.
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