01 June 2017

More on racist mascots

In my house, we are already two months into baseball season -- which also means the resurgence of critical blogs, news articles and discussions about racist mascots. We posted last year about Racist Mascots (11 April 2016), and this post adds to that earlier and ongoing discussion.

Native Mascots Perpetuate Racism Against Indigenous People
Last April as the Toronto Blue Jays battled through the American League Championship Series, Cleveland's team arrived in Toronto for Game 3 of the series amidst a legal challenge to ban the use of that team's racist mascot and name. Where many of the Cleveland fans interviewed by Canadian media feel that "the team's nickname and logo are not offensive and should not be changed," well-known Indigenous architect, activist, and officer of the Order of Canada Douglas Cardinal filed an injunction against the team's name and mascot as offensive and discriminatory. Douglas argued
that the logo reflects stereotypes and misunderstandings about indigenous cultures, lumping diverse groups of First Nations into one offensive, homogenous cartoon.
“It’s much deeper and more profound than a logo being offensive. It’s really an indicator of why that relationship (between First Nations peoples and society at large) is so flawed. Because there’s this lack of recognition of what the true conditions of native peoples have been over the last 500 years.”
The last-minute injunction was overturned by the Superior Court and Cleveland proceeded to wear their racism on their sleeves throughout the series.

The challenge to ban the broadcast of the name and mascot was successful, however, in raising this discussion again in mainstream media, and highlighting ways in which people in relative positions of power are already acknowledging the connections between this imagery and institutional racism against Indigenous peoples. For instance, much was made of how the long-time radio announcer for the Jays, Jerry Howarth, stopped calling Cleveland and Atlanta by their offensive team names since a 1992 letter from an Indigenous fan. This announcer has also made a concerted effort to stop using "terms such as tomahawk chop and powwow on the mound." Local teams with similarly offensive team names or mascots have also recently been called upon to change because of how these symbols perpetuate racism in the everyday.

Indigenous artists are also using these kinds of moments to speak back to and challenge these sports symbols of institutional racism. See for instance, Artists Respond to Cleveland Team’s Racist Logo (Canadian Art) or Culturally Appropriate Chicago Blackhawks Logo by First Nations Artist Goes Viral (Indian Country Today).

In the classroom, these team names and symbols provide fruitful examples for discussing how banal imagery comes to support the status quo of institutionalized racism, as well as more general questions of representation, cultural change and the invention of tradition.

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